Easy Mac and Cheese

Serves 6

Mac and cheese is an all-time favorite comfort dish, but my goal was taking out some of the fat without sacrificing taste. Wilting onions and zucchini in chicken broth instead of sautéing them was one trick, and pre-cooking the pasta in broth instead of water using the “shut off” method for added flavor was another.

This is a nice side for any occasion, and a nice change from potatoes.

2 cups diced zucchini (about 3 small)
1 small onion, diced
4 cups chicken broth, divided
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
2/3 pound whole-wheat or regular pasta, such as ziti, spirals or penne
2 cups diced, cooked ham
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1½ tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons flour
1½ cups low-fat, evaporated milk
2 cups grated Swiss or
cheddar cheese, divided

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Add the zucchini, onion and 1 cup of broth to a soup or pasta pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pot and allow the ingredients to wilt down, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Pour the remaining broth in to the same pot and bring to a boil. Stir in the pasta and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and allow the pasta to “cook” for 4 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving the broth.

3. Transfer the pasta to the bowl with the zucchini and onions. Combine well, and stir in the ham and thyme. Set aside.

4. In the same pot used to cook the pasta, melt the butter and whisk in the flour until a paste forms. Do not let it brown. Slowly pour in 1 cup of the reserved broth and the evaporated milk. Whisk until the mixture starts to thicken, then whisk in 1 cup of the cheese. Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the pasta mixture and combine well.

5. Transfer the mixture to a large casserole (9 inches by 12 inches) dish and sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining cheese. Cover with foil. Bake for about 20 minutes or until heated through. Remove the foil and bake until cheesy top is browned.

Recipe courtesy of Mary Ann Esposito