Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Baked "Mac & Cheese"

That unnaturally-colored orange crap out of a box that you were probably fed as a kid? Yeah, total crap, and thank goodness you can leave that and cafeteria mystery meat and Hostess cupcakes where they belong... in the past! On one of my recent, "hmm, what can I throw together with the random items in my fridge?" nights, I decided to pay homage to the comfort food that was once a staple during PTA meeting nights or when you came home late from soccer practice and missed a portion of dinner. My orange substance of choice here is a mix of pumpkin and fat free ricotta, but feel free to substitute with butternut squash, sweet potatoes, or the like. We're bringing retro back, in a good way- take that Velveeta!

The Whats:

For the "Mac & Cheese"
* 1 10 oz. box small spelt pasta shells (I used DeBoles brand, found at any health food store)
* 2/3 cup low sodium vegetable broth
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 2 cups pumpkin puree
* 1 cup fat free ricotta (you can use a silken tofu is you prefer to make this recipe vegan!)
* 2 tbsp. rubbed sage
* 2 tsp. white pepper
* 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
* about 5 sprigs of thyme
* splash of white wine
* salt & black pepper to taste

For the topping:
* about 5 whole wheat baguette slices, toasted
* 3/4 cup walnut halves
* 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano
* salt & pepper to taste

The Hows:

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prep a baking dish with butter or olive oil, spreading across bottom of the dish and along the sides. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add box of spelt shells. Cook pasta until al dente (about 8 to 10 minutes), stirring occasionally; drain.

2) While pasta is cooking, heat vegetable broth in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add garlic and 1 tbsp sage and cook for 2 minutes.

3) Stir pumpkin into broth until mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes; add ricotta and mix. Stir in the remaining sage, white pepper, ginger, thyme, and wine into pumpkin ricotta mixture, adding salt & black pepper if desired, and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes to let flavors blend. Remove from heat.

4) Mix the cooked pasta into the sauce until pasta shells are well coated. Spread pasta shells evenly in prepared baking dish.

5) For topping: put walnut halves and toasted baguette slices into a large Ziploc bag. Using a hammer (or rolling pin, whatever you have available!), lightly pound the bag until you have a breadcrumb and crushed walnut mix. Add pecorino romano, salt, and pepper to bag and shake well. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the pasta.

6) Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until topping is crisp. Allow several minutes to cool before serving.

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