Spinach Artichoke Pasta

I am very excited to share this recipe with everyone because it is a fusion of two delicious recipes: spinach artichoke dip and macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese is often served as a mixture of cheese sauce and cooked pasta, but I think this is selling this recipe extremely short. You can add a variety of flavors to macaroni and cheese and enhance it from a “kids food” to a creative main course. One of my favorite varieties is Mac and Trees (not just for the name which, lets face it, is fun to say); I add sauteed or steamed broccoli into the mix. Any vegetable that you like can be added if broccoli isn’t your favorite veggie. Plus, don’t you feel better about eating a buttery, creamy sauce when its mixed with a lot of vegetables??

Spinach dip is a classic recipe this time of year; I recently made it for a football tailgate. Often the dip is served with pita bread or crackers, so it seems natural to add pasta as the carbohydrate instead. In this recipe I freshly grate white cheddar cheese and Parmesan, however you can add your favorite cheese. That’s one of the best characteristics of macaroni and cheese; by changing the shape of noodle and/or the type of cheese you add to a basic sauce you can create a unique flavor profile. I used curly fusilli noodles in this mac and cheese because the deep ridges in the noodles hold onto all that luscious sauce. The spinach lends great color to this dish, it looks like green confetti among the noodles, and the artichokes add a salty flavor and great texture.

Next time you are tempted to make macaroni and cheese for dinner add your favorite vegetable or protein (grilled chicken would be great) and watch a plain recipe transform into something spectacular!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb (16oz) Fusilli pasta (elbow noodles would also work)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 c. 2% milk
  • 4 oz reduced-fat cream cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
  • pinch nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 1/2 c. grated white cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb (16oz) frozen spinach, thawed with the excess liquid squeezed out
  • 6-8 oz can artichokes, drained and chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

What a terrible blogger I am…I forgot to take pictures of the process because I was so excited to make this recipe and dove right in, I apologize in advance!

Bring water to a boil; add a generous sprinkle of salt and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and set aside. While pasta is cooking add milk, cream cheese, 1 whole peeled clove garlic (we will remove it later), oregano, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg in a small saucepan; begin warming on medium heat but do not boil. Nutmeg seems like an odd ingredient to add to a cream sauce but it simply enhances the background flavor and in no way makes the dish sweet; don’t be afraid to use it! Spinach and nutmeg are culinary friends as well.

In a medium saucepan melt the butter; add flour and stir to combine. Cook the butter/flour mixture for 3-5 minutes until the raw flour flavor is cooked out; this is the roux that will thicken your sauce. Remove whole garlic clove and add milk mixture to the butter mixture; stir well to prevent lumps from forming. Tip: In the past I would add cold milk to my roux, but I found that the sauce is creamier and thickens more quickly when I add warmed milk instead; this has completed changed the way I make cream sauce. Once the sauce is thick and coats the back of the spoon (run your finger down the spoon, if you can see the line then its thick enough) then remove from heat and stir in the grated cheese until melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add spinach and the chopped artichokes to the pasta, then stir in the creamy cheese sauce. Serve with freshly cracked pepper (I like a ridiculously large amount of pepper with my macaroni and cheese) and enjoy!!

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