Mmm, I love baked Mac n Cheese.
And sneaking in some secret veggies that actually make it taste even better? It’s a win-win for everybody. Even for the vegetable haters in my family. And the vegetable haters that we invite over for dinner that have no idea that they are even eating vegetables. I was actually “shushed” once by a friend when I started to tell her the secret ingredient, because she didn’t want her veggie-skeptical husband to accidentally overhear! He chowed down on at least two helpings of my Mac n Cheese that night, and I’m pretty sure he was none the wiser.
Developing this recipe has truly been a labor of love. It’s not unusual for me to tweak recipes and make them “my own,” but I’ve tweaked this particular recipe so much over the years that it actually is my own by now. The only ingredients it shares with the original recipe is butter, salt, and pepper!
The original recipe was was called “Creamy Ham n Macaroni.” It was a family favorite, but one day I ran out of ham. The only meat I had available was pepperoni, so I took a chance and threw it in. My family loved it! I even took the pepperoni version to a potluck dinner later that month and received rave reviews.
Some time after the pepperoni made it’s introduction, I began switching all of our grains to whole wheat. Luckily, my family didn’t seem to notice a difference when I began using whole wheat elbow macaroni. Another ingredient from the original recipe bit the dust.
In one of my many attempts to get my family to eat more veggies, I checked out the cookbook “Deceptively Delicious” from the library. Jessica Seinfeld’s method of pureeing vegetables to incorporate into her meals inspired me to try adding butternut squash to my mac n cheese. (Confession: I might have used some leftover baby food puree while I was testing out this ingredient…) In any case, it was delicious! It added a level of richness to the meal that the other ingredients had lacked.
The biggest challenge came when we finally decided to try and move towards eating less processed, “real” foods. The chicken bouillon, which gave the mac n cheese its savoriness, had to go. I had stopped adding the butternut squash for some reason (Another confession: it was because my kid had outgrown baby food purees, and I was too lazy to roast and puree my own butternut squash). In any case, without the chicken bouillon, my mac n cheese was definitely missing something.
I tried using some homemade chicken broth, but the mac n cheese lost it’s delicious creaminess. I tried using half chicken broth and half milk, but it wasn’t savory enough that way. I tried concentrating my chicken broth in an attempt to concentrate the savory flavor, but it still wasn’t enough.
Finally, I decided to bring back the butternut squash. I quit being lazy, made some butternut squash puree, and tried half puree with half chicken broth. Delicious, savory, creamy, rich success!
- 2 cups Whole wheat elbow macaroni
- ¼ cup Butter
- ¼ cup Whole wheat flour
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 1 cup Chicken broth
- 1 cup Butternut squash puree
- 3 cups Cheddar cheese, shredded (divided)
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded (divided)
- 3-4 oz Pepperoni, chopped or cut into smallish pieces (or other meat of your choice)
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the Whole wheat macaroni as directed on the box. Drain, then set aside.
- Place butter and flour in separate saucepan over medium heat, stirring to combine as the butter melts.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. (I think the pepper's more important, I like to add enough so that I'll be able to see it all throughout the sauce!)
- Stir in chicken broth and butternut squash puree, then bring to a boil.
- Turn off the heat, then add 2 cups of the Cheddar cheese and ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese to the broth mixture. Stir until completely melted and well combined.
- Pour cheese sauce over cooked macaroni noodles and stir until noodles are fully coated.
- Add Pepperoni (or other meat), and stir until they're fairly evenly distributed.
- Pour macaroni and cheese into an 8x10 cake pan. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly.
- Remove macaroni and cheese from oven and spread the reserved cheeses on top. Place back into the oven and bake for 5 additional minutes.
- Whatever you do, don't admit that there's a vegetable in there!