Simple Mac and Cheese is blissful all on it’s own. Cheese, cream, pasta? All of that is just fine left alone.
But sometimes it’s fun to change it up a bit. Cooking is its own art form, and as cooks, we have to always be innovating in the kitchen. We have to take the familiar and turn it into something completely different. We have to be bold with flavors.
I read several recipes that incorporated sweet potatoes to mac and cheese, but in the end, as usual, I did my own thing. (Ina Garten also has an amazing recipe for Lobster Mac and Cheese that I love. It’s a great base recipe for mac and cheese minus the lobster, of course.) But here’s the truth: I’m really bad at following recipes. I prefer methodical cooking. I’d rather learn a method, so I can tweak it and shape it to be exactly what suits my and my husband’s tastes. This version suited Samuel’s tastes. He ate four servings.
1 – medium to large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 Tablespoons of half & half
1 – 16oz package of frozen broccoli
8-10oz of pasta shells (or your favorite shape for mac and cheese)
4 Tablespoons of butter
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup – 2 cups of milk (I used 1%, but you can use whatever you have on hand)
4 oz of cream cheese
3 – 4 cups of your favorite cheddar cheese, freshly grated (I used a mix of white cheddar and yellow cheddar. The yellow cheddar enhances the orange color)
Salt & Pepper
2 Teaspoons of Paprika
2 Teaspoons of Sage
1/4 cup of Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
Preheat the oven to 375F
Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil, add a pinch of salt, and add the cubed sweet potato. Boil for 10 minutes or until soft. Dip out the sweet potato cubes with a slotted spoon, shaking the water off. Put in a bowl and set aside.
Bring the water back up to boil, add another pinch of salt, and add the whole package of broccoli. Cook for seven minutes.
Meanwhile, add the half & half to the sweet potato and mash it with a fork or a potato masher, until it’s a thicker puree. (It doesn’t have to be smooth).
Once the broccoli is finished, dip it out with a slotted spoon, shake the water off, put it in a bowl and set it aside.
Bring the water back up to boil, add another pinch of salt, add the pasta and cook according to the package’s direction until al dente. Drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, start the cheese sauce. In a large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until it is combined. Cook for a minute. Slowly add a quarter of milk, whisking until smooth and thickened. Add another quarter of the milk, whisking until smooth and thickened. Repeat until you’ve used 1 1/2 cups of milk.
Stir in the mashed sweet potatoes and the cream cheese into the cream mixture, until well incorporated. Add more of the milk if needed if the mixture is too thick. (I maybe added another 1/4 cup). Add the grated cheese and stir until it’s melted and incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to your taste and add the two teaspoons of paprika and two teaspoons of sage.
Add the broccoli and the pasta to the cheese sauce. Mix together and taste for seasonings. Pour mac and cheese into a greased pan, sprinkle parmesan cheese on top, and bake for 20 minutes.