19 March 2012

Mac & Cheat

by Maya Miranda

Usually when I think of cravings, my first thought is chocolate. Perhaps this is because, through years of clever marketing, I’ve developed a knee-jerk reaction to the words “chocolate,” and “craving,” appearing in the same sentence time and time again; we have been trained as a society to identify craving to be synonymous high fructose corn syrup snacks, rather than asking ourselves what nutrient lies behind the longing and speaks to nutritional deficiencies or demands. When I am compelled to consume something specific, I try to hold that thought in my hand and peer at it closely to examine. Perhaps my banana lust is also a potassium debt, or maybe my insatiable need for strawberries is a need for vitamin C, not to mention the valuable phytochemicals within.

That being said, my most persistent and nagging crave is, unfortunately, difficult to justify this way. In all its fatty, creamy goodness, I can’t really find any nutritionally redeeming qualities in Macaroni and Cheese. Sure there’s calcium and junk, but unlike bananas or strawberries, there are other ways to get the same properties elsewhere. Yet, I can’t shake it, can’t seem to pass more than a week or so without being suddenly struck for the urge, no, the need for at least a small serving of the dish. For being such a fanatic, one might think me a connoisseur, but honestly I don’t discriminate. The forty-nine-cent generic box of pasta and powdered cheese is just as welcome as a breadcrumb studded masterpiece from a fancy French bistro. Just give it to me.

While I would love to be the kind of person who has that inhuman kind of metabolism that allows any food consumed without having to buy bigger pants, I’m not. And the older I get, the more I worry about my diet. We have such a problem in this country with heart disease, diabetes and obesity; I would be a fool not to consider how my own health ties in to the bigger picture. Even if I hate to admit it, my beloved Mac and cheese is a veritable breeding ground for all the diseases I just mentioned. Why dear god do all the things that taste so good, have to be so bad?

After much soul searching and a bout of bad-mac food poisoning, I finally sat down in my laboratory – er- kitchen, and decided to tackle the problem myself. No more butter! No more egg yolks! No more pounds of cheese going into a single dish! I was determined to find a healthy alternative, preferably one that I actually like to eat. And because I’m a glutton for sneaking veggies into everything, this dish offers in a full serving.

Miss Mayas Mac and Cheat:

1 lb. pasta – I like penne but elbow is traditional. Get the whole wheat kind for more fiber and extra flavor.

8 oz Nonfat Greek Yogurt – Must be Nonfat, must be Greek.

2 Egg Whites

¼ Cup Extra Sharp White Cheddar, grated- Raw milk, organic grass fed, if you can swing it, has a nice, more pungent flavor than some others.

¼ Cup Parmeggiano Reggiano, grated- Please don’t use the stuff from the can. Just don’t.

2 tbsp Nutritional Yeast – Yes, that weird yellow, flakey stuff you buy from the bulk bins.

2 Cloves of Garlic, minced

1 large zucchini and 1 large yellow squash, sliced in thin coins – Organic of course.

1 tsp each sea salt, cracked pepper, paprika

(Makes 6-8 servings)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Or don’t. Honestly I never preheat my oven and things turn out fine. Make sure to prep your zucchini, squash and garlic first. Prepare pasta as usual, drain and do not cold rinse. Add warm pasta to a 9”x11” baking dish (glass works best) and mix in the Greek yogurt, egg whites, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika and nutritional yeast. Once it’s evenly distributed, mix in the white cheddar, zucchini and squash. Be gentle! Top with parmesan and bake for about twenty minutes, maybe more, you will know when your kitchen fills with the smell of home and the cheese on top is just browned and bubbly. I know you want to eat it right away, but let it sit for at least ten minutes or you’re going to burn your mouth. Viola!

I know there are some extra steps involved but the result is a healthy meal that can feed a whole family, or make great lunches for the rest of the week – you can freeze it for later too. The yogurt alone carries twenty four grams of protein with no added fat and gives the creaminess of béchamel. The highly flavorful cheddar and parmesan pack a lot of cheesy flavor without needing much and the nutritional yeast has a natural cheesy flavor to it that adds another layer of taste. The egg whites help adhere the mix together without adding even more fat and cholesterol. And the veggies blend so well; you may even get them past your picky six, or sixty year old. And when the bounty of Oregon summer presides, I’m looking forward to experimenting with other additions – fresh tomato and basil, roasted parsnips and carrots, hearty spinach and kale…the options are endless and I intend to try them all.