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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Print
- 1 cup sweet fresh peas
- 3 cups packed spinach, chopped
- ¾ cup fresh heavy cream (or Italian panna da cucina)
- 2 Tbsp organic milk
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- ½ cup Parmigiano, grated + ¼ cup for the top
- ¼ cup cheddar, grated
- ⅓ cup mascarpone
- 300 g pasta
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs for the top
- a drizzle of e.v.o. oil
- mint leaves, chopped, for topping
- Shuck the peas and blanch them in boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Wash spinach and chop them fine. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350° F.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Slowly whisk in the spinach mixture and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 3-4 minutes, or until sauce is gently bubbling and starting to thicken.
- Take sauce off the heat, add reserved pasta water and cheeses and whisk until well incorporated.
- Add the pasta and mix until pasta is well coated with sauce.
- Add peas and gently incorporate.
- Transfer to a greased 10-inch x 12-inch deep baking dish.
- Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and a drizzle of e.v.o.oil.
- 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.
The cooking time does not include the blanching of the peas and the making of the roux (about 10 more minutes).
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Serving Size: 4 servings
Sweet Peas also shine on this wonderful appetizer recipe:
Shrimp Sweet Pea Salad boats
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I love baking and kneading dough because it takes me to a happy place in my soul.