Creamy Broccoli Shells and Cheese

With the holidays (and December) in full swing, every day seems to get more and more busy. And on those super-jam-packed days, there's nothing more that I'd like to do than pick up a few hoagie sandwiches, a bake-at-home pizza, or even a pile of tacos. But around Christmas time especially, money gets a little tighter in order to accommodate the inflating "extra" category in our budget. So going out to eat for dinner is not on the table. Literally. 

This is why I am SO thankful for really simple, easy, and completely mouthwatering dishes like this one. It's easier for me to convince myself to make dinner if I already know it's not going to take over 30 minutes to make - and especially if there's hearty whole grain pasta, heavenly doses of sharp cheddar, and bright green healthy broccoli cooked to perfection. Let's dive in, shall we? 

When I was growing up, I hated broccoli with a passion. Whenever my Mom made something (especially a casserole) with broccoli in it, I could smell it a mile away. As much as I tried to pick out the little green flecks of broccoli, I couldn't get that tangy taste out of the rest of the food. I mean, couldn't we just have regular mac & cheese with NO broccoli in it?? I thought it was a crime against humanity, quite frankly, to put broccoli in things. 

Well, the years have been kind to my palate, and now I can eat a full plate of cooked, or uncooked, broccoli by will, and LOVE it. Crazy how things change. I'm hoping this miracle happens to my hates-absolutely-everything-green 3-year-old.

This easy twist on the traditional macaroni and cheese is lightened up a ton from the usual pack-on-the-heavy-stuff version. In our house, we always buy whole grain pasta/bread/etc, so naturally whole grain shells were a usual fit for us. It made the dish so much heartier, and filled our bellies faster than white flour shells would have. Nothing against, white shells, but this year we've been trying to make better decisions in our eating. 

Next, I used low fat, or even skim milk, in the sauce. It doesn't thicken up as well as whole milk, or even heavy cream would have, but there's still plenty of cheese sauce to coat every little broccoli floret and shell on the plate. Next, I used a little less butter than I would have. I always use unsalted so I can control the amount of salt that goes into the dish. 

The results were fantastic! The shells were bursting with that sharp cheddar tang, and the broccoli wasn't overcooked at all - just the right amount of crunch while keeping their beautiful green flavor. So if you're in a bind this week for dinner, bust out the Broccoli Mac & Cheese, save your stomach and checkbook from fast food, and put something glorious on the table for dinner! :) 

Creamy Broccoli Shells and Cheese
makes 4 servings

9oz medium whole grain shell pasta
12oz fresh broccoli florets, diced into small pieces
2 1/2 T unsalted butter
1/4 C all-purpose flour
1/2 t onion powder
1/4 t garlic powder
salt and black pepper to taste
3 C low-fat milk
6oz reduce fat sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 oz parmesan cheese, shaved

1. Boil pasta according to directions listed on package, but add broccoli during the last 3 minute of boiling. Drain well and set aside. 
2. While pasta is boiling, make sauce. Melt butter over medium heat in a large pot, then whisk in flour. Cook mixture, by stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Slowly add in the milk, then add in onion powder, garlic powder, and salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium-high, and stir constantly until it thickens. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for about 30 seconds.
3. Add in cheddar cheese and a little parmesan (save some for sprinkling). Add in drained pasta and broccoli and toss evenly to coat everything in cheese sauce. Add a little milk to the mixture if it's too thick. Serve hot! 

Recipe adapted from: cooking classy 

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