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Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

Springtime arrived here in Seattle last week, then promptly left for warmer climes. So, we are left with April drizzle and chilly days. However, our brief spring showing gave me inspiration!

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

I briefly considered a mashup of mac and cheese with asparagus, then decided that was a little too edgy for me (and my taste buds). So, I considered other spring ingredients and landed on something light, yet somewhat traditional: a mixture of fresh zucchini and baby spinach. The Food Network came through with this recipe, which I adapted slightly. Voila, Florentine! Well, close enough for me, anyway. And, the bonus is that with all the lovely veggies, this mac and cheese is pretty healthy as well.

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

First step: grate your zucchini (I used my food processor, much easier) into a colander and sprinkle about a tablespoon of salt on top. Allow the zucchini time to sweat and drain, periodically squeezing (gently!) down on the zucchini to remove the excess water.

In a large pot, cook the pasta (I used Barilla whole grain medium shells) according to package directions, then drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and Pam a 13×9 baking dish.

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

In the same large pot in which you cooked the pasta, melt four tablespoons of butter over medium heat until lightly browned (it’ll give it a slight nutty flavor, delicious!). Whisk in flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook, whisking, for about two minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, then add the thyme, bay leaves and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking periodically, until the sauce thickens – about thirty minutes. Remove bay leaves and set aside.

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

Melt the remaining four tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Add shallots and cook until they are translucent.

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

Add the zucchini and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is tender (about four minutes).

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

Add the zucchini mixture, pasta and egg yolks to the large pot containing the sauce. Stir to mix, then add all but about three tablespoons of the cheeses. Stir until cheeses are melted, then add the spinach.

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

Pour the mac and cheese into the Pammed baking dish and top with the remaining cheeses. Bake until the top is nicely browned and bubbling, about thirty minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least ten minutes.

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

The result? A lovely, light Florentine flavor just bursting with the goodness of springtime. Three and a half elbows up. It was a touch too nutmeggy for me, but I think that’s just me. Good stuff!

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

Here is my recipe, adapted from the Food Network.

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine
Author: 
Recipe type: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Mac & Cheese
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 as a side
 
Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds zucchini
  • salt
  • 1 stick butter, divided
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • black pepper to taste
  • 6 cups fat-free milk
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • zest of one small Meyer lemon
  • 13.25 ounces Barilla whole grain medium shells
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1¼ cups gruyere cheese, grated
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach, packed
Instructions
  1. Grate zucchini into colander and sprinkle salt on top. Allow the zucchini time to sweat and drain, periodically squeezing to remove excess water.
  2. In a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and Pam a 13x9 baking dish.
  4. In the same large pot in which you cooked the pasta, melt four tablespoons butter over medium heat until lightly browned. Whisk in flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook, whisking, for about two minutes. Slowly whisk in milk, then add thyme, bay leaves and lemon zest. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking periodically, until sauce thickens. Remove bay leaves and set aside.
  5. Melt remaining four tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Add shallots and cook until translucent.
  6. Add zucchini and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender.
  7. Add zucchini mixture, pasta and egg yolks to large pot containing the sauce. Stir to mix, then add all but about three tablespoons of the cheeses. Stir until cheeses are melted, then add spinach.
  8. Pour mac and cheese into baking dish and top with remaining cheeses. Bake until top is nicely browned and bubbling, about thirty minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest for at least ten minutes.
  9. Serve and scarf down immediately!

Spring has (or, at least, will again soon) sprung!

Spring Macaroni and Cheese Florentine - Mac & Cheese Chick

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