January 16, 2014

Baked Mediterranean Macaroni and Cheese





            "Macaroni and Cheese" or in short "Mac and Cheese" is the most common recipe that we can find under "Kids Menu" in any restaurant, here in the USA. Not just kids love this but adults equally do. The most cheesy pasta, deliciously prepared with sauce or baked to melt in our taste buds. This recipe is an inspired version, I mean I went through many recipes, methods and combined all my favorite flavors to make this a complete comfort food for my family.




           Please do not wonder why I add spinach in most of my recipes - I have a 2 year old picky eater and these are hidden ways to feed my little one's tummy with something healthy. I got to justify this too - Why Italian Breadcrumbs in all my recipes? I love the flavors and nothing else :).




          How does it feel when you take this dish out from your oven? Well, the sauce will be BUBBLING and the cheese with bread crumbs give a rich golden brown color on top and the smell will be so good that you won't wait to think anything other than pulling a plate and fork and let your mouth do the rest - SO HAVE FUN LICKING ;).


Ingredients: (Serves 4 people)
  • Elbow Macaroni - 8 ounces
  • Diced Tomatoes - 1 can or 14.5 ounces, drained
  • Butter - 1/4 cup or 1/2 stick (plus some for greasing baking tray)
  • Black Olives - 1/3 cup
  • Baby Spinach - 2 heaped cup (roughly chopped)
  • Olive oil - 2 teaspoons
  • Onion - 1 very small (Finely chopped)
  • Garlic - 2 cloves (Grated or finely chopped)
  • All purpose flour - 1/4 cup
  • Whole Milk - 2 cups
  • Italian Bread crumbs - 1/2 cup
  • Feta Cheese - 5 ounces (Crumbled,Divide to 4 ounces each)
  • Dried Oregano - 1 teaspoon
  • Salt - as you need
  • Black Pepper powder - as you need
(Please refer my notes for some substitutions for the above ingredients and other notes)


Method:  

  • Butter/Grease an 8 inch square baking dish. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set a large pot of water to boil with enough salt added. Take a bowl and combine drained tomatoes, Olives and dried oregano. Take a pan, on medium heat, saute the spinach, sprinkling some water, pinch of salt until soft and set aside. 


  • Cook macaroni as per package instructions(remove a bit early and strain them than mentioned in the package as we will bake them and we do not want them to overcook). At the same time, melt butter, Olive oil in a sauce pan on medium heat. Add Garlic and cook until fragrance goes off(1 minute) and add Onion, let it cook until they are transparent and soft.


  • Add Flour and cook stirring consistently for a minute. Whisk in milk on medium heat and bring the mixture to boil. Reduce the heat to low and stir consistently until the sauce thickens, around 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in 3 ounces of Feta to the mixture.


  • Pour the mixture to the drained pasta, Stir in Tomato mixture we prepared in step 1. Season with required salt and pepper and mix well. Pour half mixture first to the greased baking dish. spread the sauteed spinach and pour in the remaining mixture. Top it with breadcrumbs and remaining Feta cheese. Bake this for 20 to 25 minutes, until the sauce bubbles and the cheese on top begins to change its color to golden brown.



Have fun enjoying this comfort meal



My Notes:
  • We can add Mixed vegetables or Mushrooms or Chicken to this recipe.
  • Use 1 cup of heavy cream instead of whole milk for more creaminess and richness to the dish.
  • For a healthier version we can also use skim milk instead of whole milk.
  • Reduce Feta cheese to 3 ounces in total if you are not a cheese lover, I will not advice to avoid cheese as feta brings wonderful taste to this recipe.
  • You can use plain breadcrumbs or homemade for this recipe. Avoid them completely if you wish to but crumbs give a great crispy topping for this recipe.
  • This recipe is also delicious without baking so if you cannot wait until the oven timer goes off, then just dig in directly without adding bread crumbs.




Not just this recipe but below are links from my other friends of Food Network's "Comfort Food Feast" who also have deliciously different versions of Macaroni and Cheese like mine :).

Feed Me Phoebe: Jalapeno-Scallion Mac n Cheese
Jeanette's Healthy Living: Triple Cheese Chicken Pasta Bake
Dishing With Divya: Baked Mediterranean Macaroni and Cheese
Weelicious: Green Mac and Cheese
The Heritage Cook: Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese
Taste With The Eyes: Macaroni and Roasted Garlic Cauliflower Gravy
Red or Green: Mac & Cheese with Tuna and Green Chiles
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Mac & Cheese with Roasted Cauliflower and Leeks
Virtually Homemade: Ham and Cheese Mac and Cheese Bites
Domesticate Me: Skinny Mac with Cauliflower Cheese Sauce and Chicken Sausage
The Sensitive Epicure: Cauliflower 'n Cheese (Gluten-Free)
Devour: Mix-Ins for Macaroni and Cheese
From My Corner of Saratoga: Queso Mac and Cheese
FN Dish: 10 Ways to Make Mac and Cheese
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