Today's Meatless Monday is an homage to my all-time favourite comfort food, macaroni and cheese. I love the stuff, but unfortunately I usually can't eat it because of this little lactose-intolerant issue that plagues me. (Thanks Mom!) Thank goodness there are now many cheese and milk brands available that allow for dairy enjoyment sans lactose. The other issue of course with mac and cheese is the high caloric and fat content. Guilt abounds at the mere thought of making it and I can almost feel my thighs expanding while sourcing recipes. And then.....I found this little gem of a dish in Vegetarian Times. It combines the flavours I seek with the comfort I crave, all while severely limiting the fat and calories. Enjoy.
2 cups (8 oz.) whole-wheat penne (I use a bit more)
1 lb. spinach leaves, trimmed
¼ cup olive oil or butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fat-free milk
½ cup plus 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese (I use lactose-free)
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Cook penne according to package directions. Drain, and set aside.
3. Heat large pot over medium-high heat. Add spinach, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until wilted, stirring with tongs to cook all leaves. Drain, and press out any excess liquid. Coarsely chop wilted spinach, and set aside.
4. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk in milk, and cook 5 minutes, or until sauce has thickened, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, then add penne, spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan, garlic to sauce, and stir until well coated. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Transfer to prepared baking dish, sprinkle remaining 2 Tbs. Parmesan over mixture, and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until top is browned.
** I often add a 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs to sprinkle on top just before baking. It adds a nice crunch.