Pasta, Pizza, Risotto

Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese

Nicoletta July 10, 2017

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Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese, a green and healthier take on a family’s comfort classic. Seasonal fresh sweet peas and spinach combined with a blend of cheeses and beautifully cooked “macaroni” makes for a delicious, easy and fun recipe, great for those busy weeknight dinners.

Song of the day: Green Light – Lorde.

Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese

It always feels kind of “weird” when I’m sharing a recipe that is not sweet, and it feels like I’m invading Loreto’s space, but this time, even though for the final preparation was a joint effort, I’d like to take full credit for the recipe.

 

 

It all started, as often, at our local Saturday venture to the Farmer’s Market. Summer is finally here and thanks to beautiful sunny days and a strong urge to be outside and take full advantage of the -too short- season, we abandoned our most beloved indoor Old Strathcona location, for the energetic, vibrant, outdoor downtown one. Saturday mornings at the 104th Street City Market are a real happening. It’s all smiles, and cheerfulness, and greeting people and their dogs, even a couple ferrets, and a cat, on a leash. We stop and talk to vendors and friends we casually meet, nibbling on some samples, occasionally listening to the live music, and taking it all in, the joy and passion of all these organic food lovers.

It is in a couple of these beautiful stands, that the idea of a tasty but healthy weeknight meal starts to take shape in my mind. A bag of locally grown spinach, some of the leaves so huge I stand in awe, falls into our bag and then I find myself looking at the first fresh sweet peas of the season with dreamy eyes.

I don’t know about you, but I simply love sweet peas. They are probably my favorite vegetable, they always were, even as a child, and you can find a bag of fresh-frozen peas in my freezer all the time. I am not fond of canned peas and they never find a way to our house. So these days of abundance of fresh peas, I buy them in bulk, and quietly, in a state of meditation, I spend minutes, hours, shucking them. Four in the bowl, one in my mouth, lol. They’re so sweet and crisp, I cannot resist. Some I’ll use it fresh, the rest will go in the freezer.

Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese

The rest of the ingredients of this amazing Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese is most likely to be in our fridge and pantry: all kinds of cheeses, butter, milk, heavy cream (or the Italian panna da cucina), e.v.o. oil, flour, breadcrumbs and almost every variety of shapes of pasta. This is an Italian household, after all, lol.

Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese

You can customize the cheeses that you are going to use, according to whatever you have and want to use up. This is the beauty of creation and making a recipe your own. For us, it was a combination of panna, mascarpone, a spicy cheddar, and Parmigiano, some of which needed to be used up. You can make it healthier or more indulgent, and you can choose the shape of pasta you most like. Just go with it. Our pasta was Garofalo brand, a cute shape named Cappelletti that we bought at the Italian Centre Shop.

I put this Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese together with Loreto.  As we often do, I got started with the preliminary prep and when Loreto came back home from work we finished it off together. We both marveled at the incredible color, a bright vibrant green, what really captivated us was the creaminess of the sauce and a taste test quickly followed as we both looked at each other and smiled knowing we nailed this one.

Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & CheeseSweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese

The battle for us was having to wait for this incredible green mac & cheese to be done. We both kept staring into that little oven window like kids saying “Is it done yet?“.

When it was finally done you could see the crispy top and a wonderful aroma filled the kitchen, due also to some gorgeous mint leaves we decided to use as a garnish and that added a nice fresh touch to the ensemble of flavors. With forks in hand and pasta in bowls, we were quick to attack. Underneath that crispy breadcrumb topping, a velvety creamy spinach sauce is introduced, followed by nice plump peas making their way through with their sweetness. The blend of cheeses, combined with the perfectly cooked pasta and held together with that luscious heavy cream, takes this mac & cheese to luxurious levels. Forkful after forkful my taste buds danced in delight. Even at the end, the sound of our cutlery trying to get every last bit of that sauce, and some of those runaway peas.

Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese

If you’re trying to get your kids (or spouse) to eat veggies, this Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese is a great strategy.

Song of the day: Green Light – Lorde.

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Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese

Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sweet fresh peas
  • 3 cups packed spinach, chopped
  • 3/4 cup fresh heavy cream (or Italian panna da cucina)
  • 2 Tbsp organic milk
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano, grated + 1/4 cup for the top
  • 1/4 cup cheddar, grated
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone
  • 300 g pasta
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs for the top
  • a drizzle of e.v.o. oil
  • mint leaves, chopped, for topping

Instructions

  1. Shuck the peas and blanch them in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Wash spinach and chop them fine. Set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  4. Cook pasta in salted boiling water for less than package directions call for (it will keep cooking in the oven). Drain the pasta but reserve about half a cup of the pasta water.
  5. While the pasta is cooking, place the chopped spinach in a blender with the cream, and a couple tablespoon organic milk and blend on high speed until smooth.
  6. In a large pot (or wok) melt the butter and then add the flour, whisking continuously over low-medium heat for 1-2 minutes to make a roux.
  7. Slowly whisk in the spinach mixture and bring to a boil.
  8. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 3-4 minutes, or until sauce is gently bubbling and starting to thicken.
  9. Take sauce off the heat, add reserved pasta water and cheeses and whisk until well incorporated.
  10. Add the pasta and mix until pasta is well coated with sauce.
  11. Add peas and gently incorporate.
  12. Transfer to a greased 10-inch x 12-inch deep baking dish.
  13. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a drizzle of e.v.o.oil.
  14. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling. Turn oven to broil and cook for an additional minute, just to brown the top.
  15. Enjoy!

Notes

The cooking time does not include the blanching of the peas and the making of the roux (about 10 more minutes).


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 4 servings
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Sweet Pea Spinach Mac & Cheese

Sweet Peas also shine on this wonderful appetizer recipe:

Shrimp Sweet Pea Salad boats

Shrimp Sweet Pea Salad Boats

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24 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply Dana Sandonato July 10, 2017 at 7:52 am

    I love how vibrant and green this is! What a perfect mac and cheese for summer. I’m also happy to see that you do a roux for your sauce. I’ve had so many back-and-forths about roux. Some people truly believe it’s unnecessary. *facepalm* Oh well, it’s their mac and cheese lacking richness, not ours! 😉

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 10, 2017 at 10:16 am

      Thank you Dana! We loved this green mac & cheese, in 3 we polished the whole thing 😉 . Loreto usually makes the roux and the cheese sauce, and I have to tell you I love it, so it is a yes for the roux! 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Gabrielle @ eyecandypopper July 10, 2017 at 9:15 am

    Love this recipe! It’s always nice to make comfort foods healthier, and this looks so lovely in a shade of green. The addition of fresh local sweet peas sounds perfect!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 10, 2017 at 10:18 am

      Agree, Gabby, it is nice to have a healthier version of a beloved comfort food that still tastes amazing! Sweet peas this time of the year are so sweet! I just love them! Thank you for your comment!

  • Avatar
    Reply Kim July 10, 2017 at 9:19 am

    I love the colours in this! With fresh peas being ready now, I am going to have to add this to my list

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 10, 2017 at 10:19 am

      Isn’t this color the best? We loved it and so enjoyed a plate of this mac & cheese. Hope you try, and let us know! Thanks!

  • Avatar
    Reply Brown Sugar July 10, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Okay, you got me interested. I am definitely pinning this to make it. I have to check this out.

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 10, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      Oh, Thank you so much! I hope you try it, and let us know how you liked it! We loved it 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Allison Sidhu | Foodal July 10, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Sweet peas with mac and cheese is one of my favorite dishes from childhood! I love this idea for a fresh, green version. I can’t eat spinach, but I wonder if a combination of cooked kale and fresh herbs would work instead? Thanks for the recipe!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 10, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Hi Allison! I would definitely try any small leafy green like kale or Swiss chard, and herbs are always a welcomed addition. I am glad it brought you back memories of your childhood, not mine, since I grew up in Italy and no mac & cheese there 😉 .

  • Avatar
    Reply kitchenfrau July 10, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    That looks like spring in a dish. I LOVE sweet green peas, too. I usually have trouble getting enough in the bowl since too many of them like to jump in my mouth! I’m definitely going to try this. I love that I can use up the cheeses in my fridge.

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 11, 2017 at 10:07 am

      Thank you Margaret! We have the same “trouble” with peas 😉 . Yes, adapt it to whatever you cheeses you have, and a gluten-free pasta. It’s going to be great!

  • Avatar
    Reply Jeff Honeywood July 10, 2017 at 6:41 pm

    I absolutely love baked, cheesy pasta dishes. Adding peas and spinach is a really unique spin that I would have never thought of, but it looks absolutely delicious.

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 11, 2017 at 10:08 am

      We love our cheesy bakes pasta dishes here as well 😉 . This has such a unique flavor, it was very well received! Thank you Jeff!

  • Avatar
    Reply Dawn @ Girl Heart Food July 11, 2017 at 6:22 am

    I’m sure Loreto don’t mind you making a savoury dish, especially when it looks this good! With the cream and mascarpone in this dish, it is totally calling my name! Love that you use fresh peas here (that are such a summer ingredient, aren’t they?). Yum yum yummy! Pinned!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 11, 2017 at 10:09 am

      You’re right, Loreto doesn’t mind, plus, we always cook together 😉 . We enjoyed this dish so much! Thank you for the comment and for pinning, my friend!

  • Avatar
    Reply Kathy @ Beyond the Chicken Coop July 11, 2017 at 6:54 am

    You two make a great team in the kitchen! This dish looks amazing. Love the green color!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 11, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Thank you Kathy, so much! We think we do make a great team, also because we a lot of have fun creating 🙂 . Isn’t the color just beautiful? 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply Milena | Craft Beering July 11, 2017 at 11:30 am

    This is such a vibrant looking mac and cheese, Nicoletta!. Plus – mascarpone and mint. I’m in!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm

      Thank you Milena, I love that color! We added mascarpone because we wanted to use it up, but it added such a nice creaminess, and that mint…oh yes!

  • Avatar
    Reply Elaine @ Dishes Delish July 12, 2017 at 10:10 am

    This looks super tasty and healthy! Beautiful photos!!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm

      Thank you, Elaine! It was super tasty 🙂 .

  • Avatar
    Reply Dominique| Perchance to Cook July 12, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    Oh my goodness, this is like two of my favorite dishes combined. I need to try this!

    • Nicoletta
      Reply Nicoletta July 12, 2017 at 5:34 pm

      Thank you Dominique, we were all quite pleased with this dish. Hope you get a chance to try it!

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