Monday, January 28, 2013

Creamy Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese (and a Giveaway from Barilla!)

Pasta and cheese are probably my two biggest weaknesses when I'm trying to eat healthy. They are perhaps the two "naughty" foods I could never give up. Ever. I have determined that you can still avoid the guilt if you eat the things you love in moderation. Also, keeping portions small helps too. If you want to indulge in your favorite things, don't eat them regularly and eat less than you typically may. This is a good way to stay on track.

Another way to work pasta back into your diet if you are trying to watch what you eat is to select healthier pasta options and prepare them with less added fat. Fortunately for all of us, Barilla offers lots of healthy pasta options that can aid in this process. I exclusively purchase their Whole Grain pastas when I'm looking for ways eat healthier pasta. I think Barilla's Whole Grain pasta tastes much better than the alternative brands and tastes less "grainy," giving the illusion that you're eating regular pasta.

Recently, Barilla sent me a bunch of their healthy pasta varieties to try out. Although I was already familiar with their Whole Grain variety, I was really excited to try a few of the others. They sent me boxes of Whole Grain, PLUS, Veggie, and White Fiber pastas to test out. They are also sending some boxes to a couple lucky winners of a giveaway I am hosting! Details to follow.

Here's some info on Barilla's healthy pastas...

Barilla Whole Grain: Made with 51 percent whole wheat, Barilla Whole Grain is all natural and an excellent source of fiber. It offers 28g of whole grains and 6g of fiber per serving, which is three times the fiber of traditional pasta. It is the ideal pasta for anyone seeking to increase their intake of fiber and whole grains without sacrificing taste. It comes in 8 different varieties, from spaghetti to penne, rotini, and more.

Barilla PLUS: A nutrient-rich, complex carbohydrate that is a good source of thiamin, folic acid, iron, riboflavin and niacin. It’s low in sodium and naturally cholesterol free. Barilla PLUS offers a taste, color and texture as good as traditional Barilla pastas, and is a good source of protein, ALA omega-3 and fiber. It delivers 44 percent more protein and almost twice as much fiber than traditional pasta. It is lower in fat than other protein sources like ground beef, salmon and eggs. Made from a unique multigrain blend that includes semolina (coarse durum wheat), oats, spelt and barley, as well as legumes, ground flaxseeds and oat fiber, Barilla PLUS offers a well-rounded approach to balanced nutrition with the great taste and premium ingredients expected from Barilla.

Barilla Veggie: Available in three delicious varieties- Farfalle made with Carrots & Squash, Rotini made with Zucchini & Spinach, and Penne made with Tomatoes & Carrots. Made with 25% pureed vegetables, each 3.5oz portion provides 1 full serving of vegetables.

Barilla White Fiber: Available in three varieties- Mini Rotini, Mini Shells and Mini Penne, Barilla White Fiber looks and tastes just like regular pasta, letting your whole family enjoy their favorite pasta meals, while also providing them with a hidden boost of the fiber and whole grains they need. With three times the amount of fiber of regular pasta, a 100g serving provides over 40% of the DRV of fiber and over 30% of the DRV for whole grains, all from natural ingredients.

All of these pastas are excellent options to enjoy while living a healthier lifestyle. Preparing these pastas in relatively healthy ways is another step in the right direction. In the past, I have shared quite a few pasta recipes that highlight vegetables or utilize other healthy preparations. Here are a few of my favorites: Fettuccine with Pureed Carrot Sauce, Asparagus, Peas, and Wild Mushrooms, Penne with Roasted Red Peppers, Farfalle with Zucchini Sauce, Spaghetti with Lentils, Roasted Tomatoes, and Spinach, Whole Wheat Pasta Puttanesca, and Spaghetti with Beet Greens and Garlic.

Today I will be sharing yet another slimmed-down pasta dish. This one puts a healthier spin on my absolute favorite guilty pleasure: macaroni and cheese. I mean, think about it. This one dish includes my two favorite ingredients in one delicious place. Typically, macaroni and cheese starts off with a decadent bechamel sauce, started with equal parts butter and flour, and then finished with milk (traditionally whole milk, but I always use low-fat). I also usually use more cheese than pasta. Yes, I'm serious. If I start with 1 pound of pasta, I will typically use over 1 pound of cheese. I realize this isn't healthy. This is where a pureed cauliflower sauce comes into play.

The smooth creamy texture of cauliflower puree takes the place of the typical bechamel. A more reasonable amount of cheese gives the dish some cheesiness without all the fat and calories. It's a good way to feel gluttonous without harming your waistline. I used Barilla's White Fiber pasta for this particular dish because it features mini pasta shapes that are perfect for mac and cheese.

Like I mentioned earlier, Barilla has agreed to send a couple lucky winners some boxes of their healthy pasta along with a fun Barilla apron. The giveaway is open to US residents and starts now and ends on February 1, at 11:59pm. To enter, leave a comment telling me which healthy Barilla pasta you are most anxious to try. I will randomly select two winners. It's as easy as that. Good luck!

Creamy Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 8

1 head cauliflower (about 3 1/2 lbs), trimmed and cut into florets
4 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
Kosher salt
12 oz Barilla White Fiber pasta (or other healthy pasta)
2 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth, heated
8 oz sharp white cheddar, grated
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tsp. dry mustard
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch grated nutmeg
1/2 cup panko
1 T. extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the cauliflower and garlic. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until very tender. Remove the cauliflower and garlic with a slotted spoon.

Bring the water back to a boil, re-salt the water if needed and add the pasta. Cook it only half as long as the package suggests (or even less time). It will continue to cook in the oven. In this case, the package says 6 to 7 minutes so cook it 3 minutes maximum (I actually cooked mine for 4 minutes and felt it was overcooked after baking, so don't make the same mistake). Drain and set aside.

In batches, add the cauliflower, garlic, broth, 6 oz of the cheddar, parmesan, mustard, cayenne, and nutmeg in batches to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Continue working in batches until until all the cauliflower is pureed. Season the mixture with salt and then combine it with the par-cooked pasta. Pour the mixture into a greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 oz grated cheddar cheese.

Mix together the panko with the olive oil and top the pasta with the mixture. Bake for about 20 minutes until bubbly and then broil for another few minutes to get a nice golden crust. Serve hot.


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