Jamie Oliver brings a little plant power to the mac-and-cheese game

  • Greens Mac and Cheese.

    Greens Mac and Cheese. Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post

 
 
Posted2/18/2020 6:00 AM

At the risk of sounding, well, obvious, sometimes the only thing I want is mac and cheese (or, with my apostrophes appropriately in place, "mac 'n' cheese"). You know how those cravings hit: You get a glimpse of a recipe or a dish and you can't get the idea out of your head until it's in your stomach. What will it take to get from there to here?

That's how I felt when I saw a recipe for a vivid green version of the dish in Jamie Oliver's new cookbook, "Ultimate Veg" (Flatiron Books, 2020). Thankfully, it doesn't require much effort: You puree cooked leeks, broccolini stalks and fresh spinach with milk, cheese and a little flour, mix it with cooked pasta and the fresh broccolini florets and bake it under a shower of sliced almonds. What emerges, bubbling and toasty, practically demands you to resist. Just try. It lives up to the ideal and offers a bonus: the vegetables, some blended in so thoroughly only their vibrant color remains, and some -- those florets -- lending a little extra fresh crunch every bite or two to offset that luxuriousness.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I'd call it kid-friendly, but I don't have kids, and I suspect that its appeal might hinge on their attraction to -- or revulsion at -- the color. Thankfully I'm all grown up, and I can't get enough.

Greens Mac 'N' Cheese

Leeks, broccolini and spinach add color and nutrition to this cheesy pasta, which gets a dose of crunch from a toasted almond topping.

teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed

1 large leek

1 pound broccolini (may substitute broccoli)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

Leaves from 6 stems fresh thyme

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cups reduced-fat (2 percent) milk, or more as needed

1 pound dried elbow macaroni

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated

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5 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

4 ounces (4 cups packed) baby spinach leaves

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

2 ounces ( cup) sliced almonds

Place a baking rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, cut off the bottom quarter-inch of the leek, removing the root, and the dark green, fibrous parts of the leek (where it starts to unfurl) and discard, compost or save for vegetable broth. Cut the remaining leek in half lengthwise. Using just the white and light green parts, wash the leeks under running water, separating them to rinse in between the layers, until the water runs clear. Thoroughly pat dry and thinly slice.

Separate the broccolini florets from the stalks and chop the florets into bite-size pieces. Thinly slice the stalks.

In a large ovenproof skillet or fireproof casserole set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks, broccolini stalks, garlic and thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the flour, then slowly stir in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the macaroni to the boiling water and cook for a minute or two less than the package instructions, until al dente. Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, stir the Parmesan and all but a few tablespoons of the cheddar into the sauce and mix well. Transfer to a blender (or use a handheld immersion blender), add the spinach and puree until smooth. (You may need to work in batches to avoid overcrowding the blender.) Stir in the teaspoon salt and pepper, taste, and add more, if needed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Return the sauce to the skillet or casserole and stir in the pasta and broccolini florets, loosening with a splash of milk, if needed. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar on top, along with the almonds.

Transfer to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Serve hot.

Serves 8

Nutrition | Calories: 480; Total Fat: 18 g; Saturated Fat: 9 g; Cholesterol: 45 mg; Sodium: 360 mg; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugars: 9 g; Protein: 22 g.

(Adapted from "Ultimate Veg" by Jamie Oliver. Flatiron Books, 2020.)

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