Lighter Macaroni and Cheese

Preparation info

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    • Difficulty


Appears in

Lighter, Quicker, Better: Cooking for the Way We Eat Today

Lighter, Quicker, Better

By Richard Sax and Marie Simmons

Published 2000

  • About

In this update of macaroni and cheese, we use ricotta cheese flavored and moistened with a little tomato sauce. If subjected to long baking, the cheese would tighten up, so the macaroni and cheese is run quickly under the broiler to brown the surface while keeping the interior creamy. We also add plenty of vegetables for color, flavor, and fiber.


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 3 scallions, white parts thinly sliced, green parts sliced on a diagonal about ½ inch wide
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 6 mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • Salt
  • ½ pound rigatoni or elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup thinly sliced carrots, cut on a sharp diagonal
  • 1 cup broccoli florets (¾ inch), including peeled and diced (½ inch) stems
  • ½ red (bell) pepper, cut into short thin slivers
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese, preferably freshly made
  • ½ cup finely grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • ½ cup tomato sauce, homemade, or storebought
  • Hot pepper sauce
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


    1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
    2. Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, white parts of scallion, and garlic and sauté, tossing, until the onion has softened slightly, about 6 minutes. Add the remaining teaspoon of oil and the mushrooms. Sauté, tossing, for about 3 minutes longer.
    3. Add salt to the boiling water. Cook the pasta until partially cooked, 4 or 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook 2 minutes longer. Add the broccoli and cook 3 minutes longer.
    4. Spray a 10- to 12-inch oval gratin dish or 9-inch square pan with nonstick cooking spray. Adjust the broiler rack so that the top of the dish will be 2 to 3 inches from heat source. Preheat the broiler.
    5. Drain the pasta and vegetables and return to the pot. Add the mushroom mixture, scallion greens, and red pepper, tossing gently to combine. Stir in the ricotta, 5 tablespoons of the cheddar, the tomato sauce, a few drops of hot pepper sauce, a pinch of nutmeg, and a pinch of pepper. Transfer to the baking dish. Combine the remaining cheddar with the Parmigiano-Reggiano and scatter the mixture evenly over the surface.
    6. Broil, watching carefully, until the surface of the pasta is nicely glazed and golden brown, usually 3 to 5 minutes. Let rest briefly, then serve hot.