three cheese mac with broccoli

I really have no excuse for cooking and blogging instead of studying the renal system. This is me not caring. A girl’s gotta eat, you know, and my back-up plan of blogging for a living needs to be maintained.

I was going to make this for book club but then book club was cancelled after I had read the book, so in retaliation (I could have been studying!) I decided to make it for myself and post it on the internet. So there. Everyday Food called this “lighter” mac and cheese, which I guess is true if you go by Martha Stewart’s standards (her classic recipe calls for more than 6 cups of cheese). The trick is using neufchatel cheese (aka light cream cheese) for a really creamy sauce, and adding broccoli so you can reassure yourself that you ate your vegetables. Or as the magazine says, “Broccoli adds substance and vitamins.” Alrighty then.

The result was delightfully creamy and cheesy, and the broccoli tasted unsurprisingly like broccoli cheese casserole. It was the perfect antidote to the sleet and snow that’s been pouring down on Chicago since mid-afternoon.

Look at that overflowing cheese.

If I make this again, I’ll cook the broccoli for less time: it got a little too soft for my taste. I’d probably also add more panko breadcrumbs, because…do I even need to explain why? Some hot sauce might also be called for, if that’s your thing. I’ve also altered the instructions to reflect how I actually cooked the sauce, because the cream cheese portion got a little chaotic and turns out they really should have told you to soften it first.

Now, let me get to the recipe so you can get to mac and cheese and I can return to renal physiology.

three cheese mac with broccoli
adapted from Everyday Food March 2013

1/2 pound (8 ounces) short tubular pasta, such as penne
2 cups broccoli florets (if using whole broccoli, peel and slice the stems)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 ounces Neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese), at room temperature
3 cups 1% milk
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs, toasted**

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding about 1/2-1 tablespoons of salt. Add pasta, and cook 1-3 minutes less than the package instructions. Add broccoli and cook the additional 1-3 minutes (use more time for softer broccoli). Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon of slat. Saute about 4 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the Neufchatel about a tablespoon at a time, stirring to incorporate. Alternately, if your cheese isn’t really mixing well, just go ahead and add some of the milk, and whisk vigorously. Either way, gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Once all the milk is added and the mixture is smooth without any flour or cream cheese lumps, bring to a boil and then simmer for 3 minutes or until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove the pan from heat, and add the cheeses, the mustard, and the pepper, whisking until the cheese melts and the sauce is smooth.

Add the pasta and broccoli mixture and stir to combine. Transfer the pasta mixture to an 8×8 inch square baking dish and top with the panko breadcrumbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until it bubbles in the center. Remove from oven and serve.

**To toast the breadcrumbs, heat them in a pan over medium heat, shaking occasionally, until nice and browned. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.

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