Healthy Butternut Macaroni Cheese Bake

This is comfort food at it’s best, first and foremost, with the benefit of it being healthy coming second. Some days you just need a bit of pasta, for the soul. A long day, a cold day or just one of ‘those’ days. There are times in life when cheese and pasta (and chocolate) are a necessity and the only things that will suffice. I’ve left this dish meat free and suitable for vegetarians, but have included meat additions below in the Notes for the meat eaters, as well as suggestions to switch up the cheeses.

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If you’ve ever read my blog, you might have gathered I’m a big believer that food should be, and can be, both delicious and healthy. The two are not mutually exclusive, contrary to popular belief. Sure, you’re never going to create a ‘healthy’ version of a deep fried Mars bar. There is nothing about a Mars bar, or deep frying that is ‘healthy’. But there is a thing called moderation; balance; or the ’80/20′ rule as some call it. But I’ll leave that for another post.

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Pasta: it often gets a bad rep. Yes, white pasta may not be the most nutritious option on the market. But the options we have both in our supermarkets and online now, is a world away from 20 years ago when wholewheat pasta was like chewing cardboard. Brown rice pasta, wholewheat pasta, even chickpea pasta are all nutritious, healthy options that taste delicious. Brown rice pasta is actually now my favourite kind of pasta – and my parents (even my processed food loving Dad) said it was better tasting than white, and I swear by Rizopia. A little nugget of information for any coeliac sufferers too – you can get Rizopia on prescription from your doctor! Yup, you can thank me later.

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Onto the next point about pasta: it’s high in carbohydrates. But, carbs are not the enemy. Carbs will not make you gain weight. Carbs will give you the energy your body needs to run efficiently, for your brain to function and to make you feel happy. There is no one singular macronutrient, nor one singular food group which will make you gain weight. A bit of proof for you? For those who know me personally, or have known me for a while, you might be aware that I suffered with Anorexia Nervosa for a number of years, but am thankfully coming to the end of that phase of my life. But during that time – before I really knew anything much about nutrition and all I cared about was the calorie content listed on the packet – all I ate was carbs. Carbs, carbs, carbs. My lunch would often be noodles and ketchup. Pasta and ketchup. I’d eat a big bag of pretzels as my night snack. And let me tell you, there was not a chance in hell that those noodles, that ketchup, those pretzels, all those ‘evil’ carbs, made a blind bit of different to my poor underweight body. I simply wasn’t consuming enough calories to gain weight. Because it’s not carbs, but an excess of calories that will result in weight gain. Anyway, I went a little bit off topic and divulged some new information and insight into my past that I hadn’t intended to, but I still think there’s the ‘evil carb myth’ lurking around and it needs de-bunking! Just like skinny teas and tea-toxes (don’t even get me started).

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Ingredients:

Serves 2

  • 90g pasta (I used Rizopia brown rice macaroni)
  • 250g butternut squash, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp onion granules
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 45g reduced fat cream cheese (11% fat)
  • 60ml milk
  • 50g mozzarella, sliced
  • handful cherry tomatoes, sliced

Directions:

  1. Cook the pasta according to packet instructions, but only cook for 8 minutes. Drain, and run through with cold water to cool. Set aside.
  2. Add the butternut squash and garlic clove to a pan with roughly 1/2 cup water. Clamp the lid on and cook until soft and tender – this should take about 15 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200C and get a baking dish ready (I used an 18cm one like this).
  4. Once the butternut is cooked, turn the heat off, leaving the lid on to cool for 1o minutes or so. Add the paprika, onion granules, tomato puree, cream cheese and milk and blend until smooth.
  5. Add in the al dente pasta and coat in the sauce. Pour into the baking dish. Top with the sliced mozzarella and cherry tomatoes and bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until bubbling and the cheese melted and golden.

Notes:

  • You can also add in any of your favourite veggies to pack this out.
  • Make it meaty: pan fry diced chicken with paprika and light soy, and stir in at stage 5. Or, grill some bacon, chop and add at stage 5.
  • Switch up the cheeses: how about stirring through some grated cheddar cheese along with the cream cheese, or topping with slices of a goats cheese log instead of the mozzarella.

 

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