Broccoli and I have had a rocky relationship. I never ate it until college, when out of nowhere the affinity for it simply steamed with salt and pepper hit my tastebuds. I’d buy multiple heads of broccoli with each grocery store trip, steaming them in the microwave in shmancy steaming bags, infiltrating the house with the stench of it, much to the dismay of my roommate. Then, after a year or two, the affinity disappeared, leaving me with a mere toleration of these little green trees of fiber and nutrients.
I didn’t crave it, and only nibbled on it when a portion of my plate was designated to it. I tried roasting it with fresh lemon, steaming it like the days of old in the microwave, and even sauteeing it in coconut oil with a wee bit of soy sauce… but no. That pure broccoli love was gone. Now I can only attain it if some carb and form of dairy are wrapping their delicious arms allll around it, subtly masking whatever flavor is striking a weird chord with my evolving taste buds.
That’s how this mac and cheese came about. I would say it is not in the least bit healthy (which more educated health critics may deem true), but it is so. full. of. broccoli. And that 4-pound bag of broccoli I forcibly placed in my basket at Costco simply had to be put to good use. But it wasn’t going to be done so simply steamed, roasted, or sauteed.
So I compromised in what little ways I could, choosing nutty, whole wheat pasta instead of the classic and plain elbow macaroni. The base of this dish is your classic mac and cheese, filled with the flavorful base of garlic and shallot with whole milk, sharp cheddar, and freshly grated parmesan. But, instead of a reasonable amount of broccoli, I chose to use about 5 cups of the chopped florets.
It was the perfect scenario. The meal was filled with as much of the veggie as I could possibly bear, making the ratio of sinful dairy to heart-healthy greens as tolerable as possible. …somewhere a dietitian is cringing at my logic, but moving on…
Top it with even more freshly shredded parm for a caramel-y top coating, or throw in some chicken as added protein to make this a bonafide meal. I served it as a side dish for a good three meals, and ate it as lunch for one. A few cranks of fresh pepper on top make it even more decadent.
- 5 cups broccoli florets
- 14 oz whole wheat penne pasta
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 tablespoons shallot (or small onion)
- 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
- 3 cups whole milk
- 2½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan, divided
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the pasta according to package directions. 3 or 4 minutes before it is finished boiling, add the broccoli to quickly cook through. Drain.
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and mustard and cook until soft. Add the flour and whisk for about 2 minutes, until the roux darkens slightly. Slowly whisk in the whole milk until hardly any lumps remain and bring to a boil.
- Remove from heat and add the cheddar cheese and ¾ cups of the parmesan. Stir in the pasta and broccoli until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the mixture into a baking pan. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, or until bubbly.