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Vegetarian Recipes

Stovetop Pesto Mac (+ Everything I Know About Making Mac & Cheese)

https://ohmyveggies.com/recipe-stovetop-pesto-mac/

Stovetop Pesto Mac with Broccoli
January is a funny month. We’re all motivated to lose weight and get healthy and eat light foods. But the weather is gray and cold and makes us want casseroles and mac & cheese and hot chocolate. I’ve posted some lighter recipes in the past two weeks, but now it’s time for Pesto Mac.

Cheesy, carb-y Pesto Mac.

Yes, the same Pesto Mac I put in my What I Ate This Week last month. Except it’s not the same, because that version was a disaster. I didn’t measure my ingredients when I was making the sauce and it turned out way way WAAAAY too thick. Oops! But now I’ve perfected the recipe. And between working on this Pesto Mac and another mac & cheese recipe for a project I’m doing, I’ve learned a lot about making macaroni & cheese. Like:

Add veggies to make your mac & cheese go further.

Broccoli is probably the most obvious vegetable to add. (They even sell boxed mac & cheese with little bits of dehydrated broccoli!) I also really like adding mushrooms, greens (like kale or spinach), roasted jalapenos or poblanos, cauliflower… anything that goes with the cheese you’re using, really. I mentioned this trick in my Vegetable Baked Ziti recipe–when you add a lot of veggies, you can get more servings out of the recipe. Which, with a high calorie dish like mac & cheese, this is a good thing!

You don’t need to start with a roux. Really.

I know, this is kind of an unpopular opinion. I’ve posted a roux-less mac & cheese recipe on my blog before and I regularly make cheese sauces without butter. Now, some people say when you skip the roux, your sauce ends up tasting like flour. My opinion is that if you use a good, quality cheese, that’s not true. I like leaving the butter out sometimes to save calories. (This Pesto Mac recipe does start with a roux, though.)

I won’t use pre-shredded cheese anymore.

I have done a lot of experimenting with mac & cheese in the past month, with both bagged pre-shredded cheese and cheese shredded the old-fashioned way–by hand, by me. I think the results are better with cheese I shred myself. Pre-shredded cheese has an anti-caking ingredient added to it and I really think it makes the resulting sauce a little bit off. I’m still using the bagged parmesan shreds in my mac & cheese, but for the softer cheese, I’ve switched to using the blocks of cheese and shredding them myself.

Stovetop Pesto Mac with Broccoli

Mac & cheese is freezer-friendly (with a few tweaks).

Full disclosure: I have not frozen this Pesto Mac, so I can’t say for sure that this recipe is freezer-friendly, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t be. But in general, mac & cheese is a great dish for making in advance and freezing. Here’s how:

  • Cook your pasta about 1 minute less than al dente. So whatever the package instructions indicate for al dente, subtract a minute. The pasta will get softer upon reheating, so if you cook it for the full amount of time, you’ll end up with mushy mac & cheese.
  • Make the sauce thinner. The first few times I froze mac & cheese, I was disappointed in the consistency of the sauce–it wasn’t smooth or creamy. The solution is to make a thin cheese sauce. After adding the milk, as soon as the sauce is smooth and coats the back of a wooden spoon, remove it from the heat and whisk in the cheese.
  • Transfer the mac & cheese to a casserole dish (make sure it’s one that can go freezer-to-oven!), top with breadcrumbs and additional cheese, and cover with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap should be pressed right up against the mac & cheese to prevent ice crystals from forming. Cover with casserole lid and freeze for up to 3 months. (Remember, don’t put hot food in the freezer–it should be chilled first!)
  • To reheat, remove from freezer, take off plastic wrap, and cover with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes; remove foil and bake 15-20 minutes more or until heated through. You can broil for about 5 minutes to brown the breadcrumbs on top.

It’s easy to fake baked mac & cheese.

Toast some panko in a small skillet and sprinkle it on your stovetop mac & cheese. Or top your mac & cheese with some additional shredded cheese, then sprinkle on the toasted panko. That way you get the creamy goodness (and immediate gratification!) of stovetop mac & cheese with the yummy crispy topping of baked mac & cheese. Win-win, right?

So tell me, how do you like your mac & cheese?

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Stovetop Pesto Mac

Stovetop Pesto Mac Recipe

Stovetop macaroni and cheese made with fresh broccoli and a creamy pesto cheese sauce.

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. elbow macaroni
  • 1 large broccoli crown, broken into florets
  • 2 c. reduced fat milk, warmed
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 c. shredded fontina cheese
  • 1/2 c. shredded parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/4 c. pesto
  • salt + pepper to taste

Toasted Panko Topping (Optional)

  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. panko, toasted

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook macaroni according to package directions until al dente. Two minutes before cook time ends, add broccoli. When macaroni is done, drain immediately and set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add in flour and whisk into butter; continue to heat until mixture is golden brown, 3-5 minutes.
  3. Slowly add milk to flour mixture, whisking constantly. Once sauce is smooth, cook until slightly thickened (about 3 minutes) continuing to whisk constantly.
  4. Remove sauce from heat. Whisk in fontina and parmesan cheese, pesto, and salt and pepper. Fold in elbow macaroni and broccoli. Divide into bowls and top with toasted panko, if desired.

Toasted Panko Topping

  1. Heat olive oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add panko and cook until golden brown, 3-5 minutes.

Notes

To make this Pesto Mac into a casserole, after pasta and broccoli have been incorporated into the cheese sauce, transfer Pesto Mac to small (about 9 x 9) casserole dish. Top with panko and additional shredded cheese; bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. If top is not browned, broil for about 5 more minutes.

About

Kiersten is the founder and editor of Oh My Veggies.


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Vegetarian Recipes

CAULIFLOWER BOLOGNESE

“I want you to come watch the movie with us ON the couch, not be in the kitchen!”

I’ve been filling out this one-question-a-day journals for moms that I received for Christmas. It records a little thought or memory over the last year, and then starts again, so you can see how your answers change over a few years. One of the recent ones, prompted me to jot notes about what I am learning as a mom, and I found the question so general I was basically annoyed. I am a romantic, and also wildly pragmatic. In the span of a day I can tear up over the depths of love I feel for my kids, and also wish for them to have a mute button. We all have worlds within us; mothering pushing me into the corners of myself I am sometimes proud of or other corners ashamed of, but am I learning? Yes, every single day. Sometimes in the moment and other times after a particular season. But in 2021, my answer in the bullet journal was that I see my kids are wanting me to play with them. They aren’t registering all the service and shuttling and laundry and what it takes to pull off a week, they just want to play WITH me. It’s natural for me to move within lists and tasks and responsibilities and hustling, but playing is something I have to pay attention to. For them and for me. We usually do a family movie on Friday nights and my son (6.5), see quote above, pointed out that I don’t actually watch the movie, I tinker in the kitchen and he wants me in the couch cuddle. Flattered, and found out that I’d rather make granola than watch The Croods 🙂 So from annoyed, to passing on the question to fellow parents, what are you learning? Try not to be annoyed. Maybe circle back to it.

I published this recipe over on SKCC a few weeks ago and wanted it to live here. We’re trying to find more family-friendly vegetarian recipes (it’s easy for me to fill up on roasted veggies and big salads, not so much for the kids). This batch lasts us two meals – once with noodles, maybe half zoodles, and the second round on toast or english muffins with cheese melted on top, like a pizza sort of thing? It freezes well and is great to deliver to new parents.

CAULIFLOWER BOLOGNESE

Serves 6

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion – roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic
sea salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 head of cauliflower (about ¾ lb. or 12 oz. riced)
1/2 cup of raw walnuts pieces
1/2 tsp. of Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. of fennel seeds – crushed
2 Tbsp. of tomato paste
2 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup of red wine (or broth of any sort, and double the vinegar to mimic the wine’s acidity)
28 oz. of canned, crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup of red lentils
red pepper flake to taste

For serving

12 oz. of pasta or choice, zoodles, etc.
parmesan
fresh, torn basil

Directions

In a large Dutch-oven or stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium low heat.

In a food processor, pulse the onion and garlic into smaller bits. Add them to the pot with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté to soften, about 3 minutes.

Pulse up the cauliflower florets to get a rice-like texture. Add the riced-cauliflower to the pot and sauté to soften, about 5 minutes.

Pulse the walnuts in the processor and add those to the pot along with the Italian seasoning, fennel seed, another few generous pinches of salt and pepper, tomato paste and balsamic vinegar. Sauté until fragrant.

Add the red wine, cook about 3 minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes, ½ cup water, lentils, pinch of pepper flakes and stir to combine. Turn the heat to low, put the cover ajar and let it simmer gently for 30-35 minutes. Turn off the heat, taste for seasoning and adjust.

Cook your pasta or zoodles according to instructions. Top with cauli Bolognese, grated cheese, fresh basil and enjoy!

The Bolognese will keep in the fridge for a week and can be frozen for a few months.

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