Roasted Veggie Mac ‘n Cheese

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I’ve never been much of a runner – I dreaded running “the mile” in middle school and freaked out when I didn’t have my inhaler – so I never thought that I’d attempt to run more than 5 miles in my life, let alone a half marathon. But somehow (probably riding on the high of the Tough Mudder), I ended up signing up for the BAA half marathon and running it a few weeks ago.

I loved the training, because honestly there are few things better than running along the Charles River during the fall in Boston. On the day that I ran 10 miles I felt both triumphant and completely in pain, but it was cool to be running 10 miles at a 9:15 pace. I never thought that would happen.

On the night before the half marathon, I was paralyzingly nervous. I knew that the race was going to hurt. And so I made comfort food: Mac and cheese. I’ve been looking for a good mac and cheese recipe for a long time, and this is the best one I’ve found. It makes a creamy, thick cheese sauce and the roasted veggies are key. Check it out:

For a 9 x 9 pan of mac ‘n cheese, which is 3 or 4 servings, you’ll need:

1 red or yellow pepper, diced

1 onion, diced

3 small mushrooms, diced

1 cup broccoli, cut into small chunks

1.5 cups pasta

1/8 cup butter

1 garlic clove, minced

1.5 T flour

3/4 c milk

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 t red pepper flaked

1/4 t cayenne pepper

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 c panko bread crumbs

2 T shredded parmesan cheese

Although the veggies above are the ones that I used and that I recommend, you can get away with using a lot of other things – carrots, squash, asparagus, zucchini, or whatever you have in your fridge. To start, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and toss your veggies onto a baking sheet. Drizzle them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then bake for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta in a pot of boiling water and drain. While the pasta cooks, work on your sauce. Heat the butter in a large skillet and add minced garlic. Be careful not to let the garlic burn, and cook it for about 30 seconds or until it starts to make your kitchen smell amazing. Then sprinkle flour onto the butter and whisk the flour consistently for a full minute. If you stop whisking, the flour may burn, so be careful. This is called a roux and it’s what will thicken your cheese sauce!

After you’ve cooked the flour and butter for a minute and it starts to turn brown (light brown, not burnt!), add milk in a slow stream to the pan. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens, about 2-3 minutes. Once you can tell that the mixture is thick (it will look fluffy), take the pan off of the heat and add in the cheese. Once that’s incorporated, add the red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, and veggies. Then mix in the pasta.

When the whole dish is combined, put it into a casserole pan and turn up the oven to 500 degrees. Sprinkle the macaroni with panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, then put it under the broiler for 3-5 minutes, or until the top becomes golden brown.

That’s it, easy-peasy! I have to admit: I hated running the half marathon. At no point during the race did I think, “Wow, this is so fun!”. But I did feel pretty accomplished afterwards, and despite the fact that I couldn’t move very effectively, I woke up from a 2 hour post-race nap and had another bowl of this delicious pasta. It’s going on my new rotation of recipes.

Enjoy!

Jenni’s Healthy Pasta Carbonara

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Tonight I made one of my favorite dinners – pasta carbonara. When I was little, I used to ask my mom to make spaghetti carbonara every year for my birthday because I liked it so much. When I lived in Italy a few years ago, I discovered that my mom makes the American version of my favorite dish, not the Italian version.

If you’ve never had it, carbonara is a pasta dish that came into being because chefs would make it after a long night cooking with the things they always had in the kitchen: eggs, bacon, pasta water and cheese. It’s like breakfast in a bowl!

When you get carbonara at an American Italian restaurant, or in my mom’s kitchen, it will likely have heavy cream in it. It’s delicious, but incredibly fattening, so it’s not something that I can incorporate into my weekly menu. When I went to Italy, however, I discovered that Italians did carbonara better – and healthier – by eliminating the heavy cream (heck, you can’t even find heavy cream on the shelves at an Italian grocery store!).

So here is my version of carbonara, based off of the many, many bowls of it that I consumed in Italy. Bon appetit!

You’ll need:

1 cup of pasta, cooked and drained

1/4 cup of pasta water, reserved

1/4 onion, cut into small strips

1 strip turkey bacon

1 egg, whisked

1 handful of spinach

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 c grated parmesan cheese

1 t nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Cook your bacon and remove it from the pan, adding the onions to the pan to caramelize in the bacon drippings. Once the onions are caramelized (this usually takes about 10 minutes), add spinach to the mixture and let it wilt.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta and reserve 1/4 cup of the water. Pasta water acts a a natural thickener, so you’ll need it to create a sauce.

Crumble the bacon and add it to the pan with the spinach and onions. Then dump the pasta noodles into the pan along with the reserved pasta water. Turn the pan to low heat and add to the mixture the egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper, parmesan cheese and lemon juice. Stir consistently for 3-4 minutes until the egg mixes with the water and become saucey, but don’t let it brown. This can take some practice, so (oh no!) you may have to make the recipe multiple times. Garnish it with parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Love,

Jenni

Pasta with Broccoli in a Mascarpone Cheese Sauce

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I’ve been meaning to blog this recipe for a while, but didn’t get around to it until this afternoon. I found a recipe that used mascarpone cheese, or Italian cream cheese, about a year ago, and the sauce has become one of my go-to favorites – it tastes like an Alfredo sauce, but it’s actually easier to make. In this version, I pair it with pasta and broccoli.

For this recipe (which will make enough for dinner and lunch the next day), you will need:

2 handfuls of pasta

juice of 1/2 lemon

zest of 1/2 lemon

1/4 c mascarpone cheese

1/2 onion, diced

1 clove garlic

1 head of broccoli, broken into small “trees”

salt and pepper to taste

parmesan cheese, grated

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package and then drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Meanwhile, saute the diced onions and minced garlic in a saucepan, and add the broccoli. Once the broccoli is tender (you may have to cover the pan to let the broccoli steam), add the cooked pasta to the pan.

In a small bowl on the side, combine the mascarpone cheese, lemon juice and zest, salt and pepper. Add that sauce to the pasta and vegetables, stirring frequently to melt the mascarpone cheese. Add the leftover pasta water to the pan to losen the sauce as needed. Garnish the pasta with parmesan cheese.

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I also love to make this recipe with chicken, spinach and sundried tomatoes instead of broccoli!

Lots of love,

Jenni

Spinach Artichoke Pasta

I’ve been meaning to make this recipe for a couple of months, but never got around to picking up the ingredients until last week. If you’re like me and you LOVE spinach artichoke dip (Bull Dip, Bucknellians?), you will adore this pasta. It’s basically the pasta form of the dip in all of its creamy, spinachy goodness. The best part? It’s healthier than spinach artichoke dip and it only takes 20 minutes to make. My kind of comfort food 🙂

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To make this recipe, which was inspired by the A Life of Flavor cooking blog, for two, you will need:

3 cups of bowtie pasta noodles (rule of thumb for pasta servings = 1.5 c dry pasta per person)

1 bag (approx. 8 oz or more) fresh spinach

5 artichoke hearts (canned and packed in water, drained and chopped)

1 T butter

1 clove garlic

1/2 c reduced fat cream cheese

1/3 c milk (reduced fat)

1/3 c sour cream (reduced fat)

juice of 1/2 lemon

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 t red pepper flakes (more if you like spicy things)

1/2 c parmesan cheese, shredded (plus more to top your pasta)

First, put a pot of water on the stove to boil (for the pasta) and put oil in another saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add spinach and saute until wilted. Place the spinach on a paper towel, and press another paper towel on top of the spinach to remove extra liquid.

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Next, drain the can of artichoke hearts and chop 4-5 hearts into small pieces. If you’re making a larger batch, you’ll use all of the hearts. If you’re making this recipe for two, you don’t need to use all of them.

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Once the water boils, add the pasta to the pot for about 12 minutes or until they taste done. Drain the noodles once they are done cooking. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add minced garlic to the butter. Cook the garlic for 30 seconds (until it’s just starting to brown) and then add the cream cheese to the pan. It will sizzle, but don’t panic… it’s supposed to! Stir the mixture for a few minutes and wait for the cream cheese to melt. Then add milk, lemon juice, sour cream, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.

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Once the mixture is thick, add the spinach, chopped artichoke hearts and 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese. Stir it slowly, then add your drained pasta and let it sit over the heat for a few minutes. It should be thick and creamy. If you find that your sauce is too thin, add more cream cheese. Too thick? Add a bit more milk, or some of the starchy water from your pasta pan.

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Add extra parmesan cheese once you’ve plated your pasta, and enjoy with a glass of white wine and some football (or a girly chick flick movie…). Some baked pita chips would also be a welcome accompaniment.

Enjoy 🙂

Love, Jenni

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