As I mentioned in my newsletter, a case of the stomach flu left me in a very unromantic state this weekend. Which meant poor Charlie was left no choice but to stay indoors eating this leftover healthy mac and cheese while I sipped bone broth and whimpered from the cold tiles of the bathroom floor.
But despite this blip that left me off solid foods for a few days, what I’ve been craving lately is cheese. Warm. Gooey. Glorious cheese.
Healthy? No. But necessary in frost-bitten February? In the words of the fictional Fargo-natives that Charlie and I binged on this weekend: you betcha.
I’ve pioneered a few gluten-free mac and cheese recipes, including this jalapeno-scallion version that fooled 20+ guests at a Southern-themed New Year’s Eve party that Charlie and I co-hosted a few years ago. The swaps are simple enough: I use gluten-free pasta (one of these brands) and either AP gluten-free, white rice or brown rice flour to make the béchamel thick and creamy.
But do these alterations make my mac any healthier? Probably not.
To satisfy my cheesy cravings this chunky sweater season, I decided to make a few more tweaks. For one thing, I wanted to limit the overall dairy in order to justify a handful of good shredded cheddar. And to justify eating a large bowl of this cheesy pasta, I packed in a good portion of green stuff (basically, combining my gluten-free mac and cheese with this healthy creamed spinach recipe). Here’s a little overview of where this mac falls on the healthy hedonism scale:
Coconut oil for butter (I like this brand)
Brown rice flour for refined AP flour
Gluten-free penne for regular noodles
Almond milk + chicken stock for whole milk
Double the spinach…and
Just a cup of organic sharp cheddar
It’s still mac and cheese.
The coconut oil/brown rice flour/almond milk béchamel still makes the pasta super creamy, even with half the cheese. A shout out to my vegan comrades: I would be curious how this recipe fares without any cheese at all, and perhaps a little nutritional yeast mixed in. Report back if you give it a whirl.
For the rest of you though, if you’re craving a cheesy baked pasta that won’t make you feel like signing up for a week of Soul Cycle to offset your choices, this healthy mac and cheese with dairy-free “creamed” spinach is the answer.
From one healthy hedonist, to another,
Healthy Mac and Cheese with “Creamed” Spinach (Gluten-Free)
- 2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
- 12 ounces gluten-free penne
- 2 large shallots thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons AP gluten-free flour or brown rice flour
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup almond milk
- 10 ounces baby spinach leaves
- 1 cup white cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese optional
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a large cast-iron skillet, casserole pan, or a 9 × 13-inch baking dish, and set it aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, following the package directions, until 2 minutes shy of al dente. The pasta should still have a bite to it. Drain, and shake out all the water.
- Heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Sauté the shallots until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook for another minute. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to coat. Cook for a minute, then whisk in the salt, milk, and broth.
- Simmer until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes. Carefully fold in the spinach in two batches. Cook until wilted, 2 minutes.
- Add the cheddar cheese and pasta and stir until very well coated in the spinach mixture. Transfer to the prepared dish and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle with the Parmesan (if using).
- Bake the mac ‘n cheese until melted and crisp on the top, about 15 minutes. You can pop it under the broiler for a few minutes if you want the top to get extra brown and crunchy. Serve immediately!