I can't say with any shred of historical accuracy that Healthy Greek Mac and Cheese with Crispy Pita Chip Topping is how Aphrodite seduced every god on Olympus, but I think it's a reasonable theory.
Think about it: Togas are not particularly flattering, goddesses are by definition high maintenance, and Aphrodite didn't exactly have a reputation for loyalty. Her secret: Healthy Greek Mac and Cheese with Crispy Pita Chip Topping. This glorious pan of bubbly, cheesy noodles piled high with Greek-inspired ingredients -- spinach, bell peppers, sundried tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese -- would beguile Zeus himself.
Now, you and I might not be able to fire lightening bolts, control the tides, or make it summer 365 days a year (my personal super-power wish du jour), but we CAN channel our inner-almighty and transform a leafy green salad into macaroni and cheese. This is my idea of might.
I adore salads at lunch, but when dinner rolls around, a cold bowl of greens simply doesn't satisfy me. I crave something warm and hearty to get me through these long winter nights of The Bachelor and The West Wing (I'm on Season 5 and obsessed). Since baking this lightened-up Pumpkin Mac and Cheese last fall, I've been moderately obsessed with creating lower-guilt versions of this ultimate comfort food, and Healthy Greek Mac and Cheese with Crispy Pita Chip Topping is my greatest achievement in cheese and noodles to date. It takes the robust flavors and ingredients of Greek salad and loads them into a creamy, dreamy baked macaroni and cheese.
Staying true the Greek-salad inspiration, I kept this macaroni and cheese lean and mean with a secret ingredient: low-fat cottage cheese. Don't hit the panic button. The cottage cheese melts beautifully into a creamy sauce, along with cheddar and a heap of tangy feta. It gives the sauce richness and body, without the excess of heavy cream.
Healthy Greek Mac and Cheese with Crispy Pita Chip Topping is also packing vibrant and healthy flavor, thanks to a heap of classic Greek-salad ingredients: bell peppers and red onions, spinach, sundried tomatoes, olives, and feta. This is an Athens-approved party in a pan.
OK, so I lighted up this Greek Mac and Cheese, but that does not mean I'm willing to forgo the crowning glory of any self-respecting baked macaroni and cheese: the crispy crunchy topping. To keep it Greek, I swapped out the typical breadcrumbs for crushed up pita chips, tossed them with a bit of olive oil and oregano, then sprinkled them all over the top. OH MY. That dusting of crushed pita chips is tantamount to Zeus showering his good favor down upon the planet. It is DIVINE. The pita chips are extra crunchy and toasty, the ideal contrast to the creamy-dreamy feta cheese sauce.
Channel your inner god/goddess and bake Healthy Greek Mac and Cheese with Crispy Pita Chip Topping. Aphrodite can keep her fleeting powers of seduction. With this pan of brightly flavored, pita-topped goodness, we have heaven on earth!
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large green bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 large red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup crushed pita chips
- 1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
- 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes
- 2 cups non-fat milk, divided
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
- 1 1/2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 4 ounces)
- 1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives, sliced
- 12 ounces whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or penne
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for serving
- In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium. Add the onions and cook until beginning to turn translucent, 5-8 minutes. Add red bell pepper, green bell pepper, and garlic and cook until the peppers are tender, about 8 additional minutes. Add red wine vinegar and cook 2 additional minutes. Set aside.
- Bring large pot of water on to boil. Place rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray. (A deep 9x9-inch pan will work as well). Mix breadcrumbs, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and oregano in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture. Place sundried tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with boiling water (this will rehydrate the tomatoes.) Set aside.
- In a large, heavy saucepan, heat 1 3/4 cups milk over medium-high heat until steaming (do not boil). In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour until smooth, then add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, salt, and pepper.
- Cook pasta for 6 minutes, until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain pasta, then add to cheese sauce; mix well. Drain the sundried tomatoes, then fold them into the mixture, along with the sautéed onions and peppers, spinach, feta cheese, and olives. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish, then top with crushed pita chips.
- Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes, checking at the 15-minute mark to ensure that the pita chips are not toasting too quickly (if they are, cover the pan with foil and continue baking.) Garnish with chopped parsley and serve warm.
Make Ahead Tip: Skinny Greek Mac and Cheese can be prepared through Step 4, then covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days or frozen for up to 3 months. To bake: Thaw in the refrigerator, if necessary, then proceed with the recipe as directed, baking for 35 to 45 minutes.
Erin Clarke is fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that tastes anything but. Find more of her recipes at The Law Student's Wife.