At the Sylvia Center, we like to make Macaroni and Cheese with teens and families that take our cooking classes because everyone has a special relationship to this dish, or some variation of a rich and comforting dish. Learning how to make a comfort dish on your own can be life changing! This Macaroni and Cheese dish, in particular, will warm your heart and soul. This dish has so many possible variations, and our version is chock full of vegetables. The ingredients are versatile, depending on what’s in season, but the classic cheese sauce always stays the same.
The cheese sauce is our favorite part to cook in class because it’s fun to watch it rapidly evolve from start to finish. Making a sauce like this one is a great teaching tool because students can see the transformation from a roux, to a bechamel and then finally become our cheese sauce. The roux — a mixture of fat, in this case butter, and flour acts as a thickener. Then we turn this roux into a bechamel by gradually adding milk.
As this point in the class, all eyes are staring at the skillet on the stove and all hands are ready for their turn to whisk without missing a beat! The final step is to add the cheese. At this point the stakes are high and mouths are watering with anticipation for what our creation will taste like. We add the pasta, combine it with our veggies and sit down to enjoy and relish in our shared accomplishment.
Veggie Mac ‘n Cheese
1 lb dried pasta, bowtie, elbows or other small pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 pound cauliflower and/or broccoli florets, finely diced
1 bunch kale, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Red pepper flakes, to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
3 tablespoon mixed herbs, finely chopped (optional)
3/4 cup finely grated parmesan or aged pecorino romano cheese, divided
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes before perfect doneness. Drain and set aside. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water for cheese sauce.
- Heat a large skillet to medium-high heat. Once hot, add olive oil.
- Add onion and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes.
- Add garlic and all other vegetables and season with salt and pepper flakes. Sauté until tender.
- When vegetables are tender, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- To make the cheese sauce, heat a medium-large pot over medium heat. Add butter. Once completely melted, add flour and whisk quickly until the mixture is shiny and resembles a paste.
- Add milk, a very small splash at a time, whisking constantly. Let mixture simmer for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add cheese, one quarter cup at a time. Be sure to combine each quarter cup completely before adding the next. If the sauce is too thick, add some reserved pasta water to loosen it. Remove pan from heat and stir all of mixed herbs. Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Off the heat, add drained pasta and the vegetable mixture, stir to combine. Serve hot.