Boxed mac and cheese can be more than just a college favourite or guilty pleasure. In fact, building on the classic pasta and cheese combination is a snap with the right ingredients and a little extra prep work. Trust us, it’s worth it.
Mac and cheese with greens
No one will ever tell you mac and cheese is healthy, especially if you’re getting it out of a box, but we have a little tasty trick up our sleeve to boost both the nutrition factor and the flavour. Start making your boxed macaroni and cheese of choice as you normally would, and while the pasta is cooking, sauté spinach, baby kale (which is more tender and cooks faster than regular kale) or Swiss chard — or all three — in some olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice, and serve the greens atop your cheesy noodles. Not only are you adding a new element to the dish with the lemon and bitter greens, but you’re instantly boosting its nutritional content.
Extra-gooey mac and cheese
If you love your macaroni and cheese extra gooey and cheesy like we do, there’s an easy way to increase the cheese factor. This one involves adding your cheese (or cheeses) of choice to the existing powdered stuff you already get with your boxed mac and cheese. We like to use a combination of old cheddar, mozzarella (for the gooey factor) and Gruyère, which perks up the flavour. Grate an equal combination of each that measures from one-third to a full cup, and mix it in after you add the milk, butter and cheese powder to your pasta. The result is an oozy, gooey, delicious mess.
Roasted veggie mac and cheese
A perfect fall-focused twist on boxed mac and cheese sees the addition of roasted vegetables. Before you start getting your cheesy pasta meal ready, roast a medley of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, bell peppers and carrots, in the oven at 425 degrees F until tender and caramelized around the edges. Mix the roasted vegetables into your prepared mac and cheese to add sweetness, texture and a big vitamin and fibre boost.
Tomato baked mac and cheese
Tomatoes are a great addition to boxed mac and cheese because their acidity makes the dish as a whole pop and creates an added dimension of flavour. And of course, baking mac and cheese makes it even more decadent. Once your mac and cheese is ready, mix in 10 to 12 cherry tomatoes that have been halved and tossed in salt, pepper, minced garlic and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar for added brightness. Pour the whole mixture into a casserole dish, and top with a combination of panko bread crumbs, cornmeal and grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 375 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes or until everything is hot and bubbly.
Peas with pesto mac and cheese
Peas can be added to most meals without disturbing the integrity of the dish, including risotto, pasta and casseroles. They add fibre, texture and a hint of sweetness. To put a tasty twist on your boxed mac and cheese that only takes a few extra minutes, we suggest adding peas (cooked frozen peas work better than canned) and a dollop of pesto. Mix the cooked peas (one quarter to half a cup) and one tablespoon of pesto into your prepared pasta. If you want to be really decadent, add some goat cheese, which combines well with both pesto and peas.