Once you try this recipe, you will never ever again take another sideways glance at that boxed mac ‘n cheese stuff.
Oh c’mon and admit that when you stroll down the pasta aisle at the grocery store, the boxed stuff calls out to you in a little teeny tiny “buy me” kinda voice. Or is that just me? I grew up on that day-glo orange un-elbowed macaroni delight (before the days of all the spelt and white cheddar and organic and cauliflower pasta blasphemy) and I am not ashamed to admit that every once in awhile I JUST WANT A BITE. To be transported back to a simpler time when Brenda dated Dylan, the Blue Jays dominated at baseball, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was totally healthy as long as you made it with margarine and fat-free milk.
But when noodle nostalgia threatens to get the better of me, I put my head down and push my grocery cart on to the chia-seed aisle, remembering that (1) powdered cheese gives me a stomachache, and (2) I can make a just-as-easy, yet healthier and more delicious version from scratch.
Cue the trumpets: Quick and Creamy Rotini with Broccoli and Mushrooms. It’s not mac ‘n cheese, that’s true. But around here we actually like it better, for a few reasons. First, it’s actually quite a bit easier to make than the standard homemade macaroni and cheese. No whisking lumps out of white sauce; no mashing butternut squash; no grating cheese. This is more of a one-pot sautee and stir kind of deal. Second, it tastes a little more adult, with the addition of tender crisp sauteed veggies and garlicky boursin. Boursin—if you’ve not had it before—is just a lightly and delectably flavoured cream cheese that is amazing spread on crackers or toast, or stirred into hot pasta like I’ve done here. (As I write this, it’s crossing my mind that boursin could be some weird old Canadian thing like toques and Smarties, and if it is you can easily throw in a small log of good goat cheese instead.) And finally, this just looks prettier than plain old mac ‘n cheese, which should count for something. Pretty enough to serve up to some dinner guests, in a pinch.
If your kids will think this too far a departure from the mac ‘n cheese they are used to, feel free to substitute macaroni for the rotini, and sautee and serve the vegetables on the side. The result will be a simple plain-jane creamy macaroni dish, and I can’t imagine any child passing that up.
If you can’t or rather would not eat wheat (like us), there are so many amazing pasta alternatives out there, and this dish will work with just about any of them. I’ve made it with brown rice pasta, chickpea rotini and red lentil rotini, in each case with tasty results.
- ½ pound rotini or other short pasta
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small bunch broccoli, cut into small florets (about 3-4 cups)
- ½ pound button or cremini mushrooms, quartered
- 1 box Boursin cheese (either the garlic/fine herbs or the shallot/chive variety)
- ½ cup water, chicken broth or white wine
- ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
- Sea salt and pepper, to taste
- Fresh parsley, for serving (optional)
- Prepare the pasta al dente, according to the package directions. Rinse with cold water and set aside.
- While the pasta water is boiling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet set over low/medium heat. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant.
- Stir in the broccoli and mushrooms and sautee for a couple of minutes.
- Add the Boursin and break it up with the back of a wooden spoon, then stir in the water/chicken broth/wine.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, and then simmer for several minutes or just until the broccoli is tender-crisp.
- Add the cooked pasta, nutmeg and parmesan cheese and cook until the pasta is warmed through.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve immediately topped with finely chopped fresh parsley (if desired).