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Made this for dinner and def saving the recipe for next time! 0 leftovers!

Creamed Spinach Mac & Cheese: A Comfort Food Classic with a Nutritious Twist

Among the vast landscape of comfort food, macaroni and cheese stands as a quintessential American classic. With its creamy, gooey goodness and rich, blissful bites, it’s no wonder we’ve adopted this dish as a staple in our culinary repertoire. Evolving from its humble beginnings in Europe and making its way across the pond, mac and cheese has comfortably nestled into the American Midwest’s heart – and mine. Yet, as an advocate for both taste and nutrition, I’ve come to adore an iteration that brings a little green onto the plate: Creamed Spinach Mac & Cheese.

Combining the creamy decadence of traditional mac with the savory goodness of spinach, a dish high in iron and vitamins, ensures that your indulgence comes hand-in-hand with a nutritional nod. This recipe not only elevates the classic mac and cheese but also adds a healthy twist that makes it a balanced meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • Salt, for pasta water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder (optional)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (optional)

Directions

Step 1: Preheat and Prepare

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C) and butter a 9×13 inch baking dish. Set aside.

Step 2: Cook the Pasta

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the elbow macaroni and cook according to package instructions for al dente. Drain and set aside.

Step 3: Prepare the Sauce Base

  1. In the same pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional minute until fragrant, being careful not to burn.

Step 4: Create the Roux

  1. Stir in the flour to create a roux, cooking for 1-2 minutes until it turns a light golden color. Gradually whisk in the milk and heavy cream, making sure there are no lumps. Continue to cook and stir until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Step 5: Add Flavor and Spinach

  1. Lower the heat and fold in the nutmeg, black pepper, thawed and drained spinach, and the mustard powder if using. Allow the mixture to simmer gently for 2 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld.

Step 6: Melt the Cheese

  1. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in 3 cups of the shredded cheddar and all of the Parmesan until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth.

Step 7: Combine with Pasta

  1. Add the cooked macaroni to the cheese sauce, gently stirring to combine. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
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Step 8: Add the Topping

  1. In a small bowl, mix together the panko breadcrumbs with the remaining 1 cup of cheddar cheese, and sprinkle this over the macaroni mixture.

Step 9: Bake

  1. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and bubbly.

Step 10: Serve

  1. Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving to allow the sauce to set slightly. Enjoy your Creamed Spinach Mac & Cheese with your choice of sides.

Variations & Tips

Additions for Extra Flavor

  • Protein Boost: For those looking to add a little bit more substance to their dish, consider tossing in some diced, cooked chicken or crispy bacon bits before baking.
  • Gluten-Free Option: Gluten-free guests? Swap out the regular pasta and flour for your favorite gluten-free alternatives.
  • Cheese Variety: Not a fan of strong cheeses? Feel free to use milder cheese varieties like Monterey Jack or Gouda. The beauty of mac and cheese is its versatility.
  • Crunchy Topping: If you’re looking for a bit of a crunch, consider adding a layer of crushed garlic croutons on top in lieu of panko breadcrumbs.
  • Smooth Sauce: To ensure a smooth sauce, always grate your cheese from a block rather than purchasing pre-shredded cheese, which is coated in anti-caking agents that can hinder its meltability.

Serving Suggestions

While this Creamed Spinach Mac & Cheese is a hearty dish that can stand alone, it pairs beautifully with a crisp, fresh salad to lighten the meal. Go for a mixture of arugula and romaine with a light vinaigrette, or perhaps a tangy coleslaw to contrast the creaminess of the pasta. For a heartier companionship, a slice of garlic bread never goes amiss, soaking up every last bit of the luxurious cheese sauce.

FAQs

Can I use fresh spinach instead of frozen?

Yes, you can use fresh spinach. Simply sauté it until wilted and then drain any excess moisture before adding it to the sauce.

How can I store leftovers?

Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in the oven or microwave until warmed through.

Can I freeze Creamed Spinach Mac & Cheese?

Yes, you can freeze this dish. Allow it to cool completely, then cover tightly and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.

Is there a dairy-free version of this recipe?

You can make this recipe dairy-free by using plant-based milk and cream alternatives, and dairy-free cheese.

What other vegetables can I add to this dish?

Feel free to add other vegetables like broccoli, peas, or bell peppers for added nutrition and color.

With these tips and variations, I encourage you to make this Creamed Spinach Mac & Cheese your own. Delve into the dish that pairs comfort with a touch of sophistication – your taste buds and your body will thank you.