Baked Mac and Cheese

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Mac and cheese can be a true comfort on a gloomy day, and this healthy update takes advantage of extra-sharp Cheddar balanced with creamy low-fat cottage cheese and tucks a layer of spinach into the middle, which may help picky eaters down their vegetables. Whole-wheat pasta adds robust flavor and extra fiber.
Ingredients
3 Tbsps plain dry breadcrumbs*
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp paprika
1 (16 or 10 oz) package frozen spinach, thawed
1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
3 Tbsps all-purpose flour
2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 ounces (2 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni or penne
 
Directions
1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.
3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
4. Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
5. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
 
Notes:
Yield: 4 servings

Calories: 576
Total fat: 22g
Fiber: 9g
Sodium: 917mg

*To make fresh breadcrumbs, trim crusts from whole-wheat bread. Tear bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. One slice of bread makes about 1/2 cup fresh crumbs. For dry breadcrumbs, spread the fresh crumbs on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F until crispy, about 15 minutes. One slice of fresh bread makes about 1/3 cup dry crumbs. Or use prepared coarse dry breadcrumbs, such as Ian's brand labeled "Panko breadcrumbs." Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: Prepare through Step 4. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator, if necessary, then bake for 35 to 45 minutes.
Categories:
Meal   DinnerDish   Main Dish
Prep Time   15 to 30 minutesCooking Time   15 to 30 minutes
Features   High-Fiber




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