White beans, whether they’re cannellini, kidney or navy beans, slip easily into a pot of baked macaroni and cheese, enveloping themselves in the cheesy sauce as effectively as the pasta itself. If texture is an issue and your kids tend to pick them out, mash them lightly with a fork first and they’ll work their way into the dish and be practically undetectable. Any type of white bean will do!
1/2 lb dry macaroni, rotini, small shells or other small pasta shapes 500 ml
1 cup canned white beans, rinsed and drained (half a 19 oz/540 ml can) 250 ml
3 tbsp butter 45 ml
3 tbsp fl our 45 ml
2 1/2 cups milk 625 ml
3 cups grated aged cheddar, Gouda, or other meltable cheese 750 ml
Bread Crumb Topping (optional):
2 slices whole wheat bread, torn into pieces
2 tbsp canola or olive oil or melted butter 30 ml
1/4 cup grated Parmesan 60 ml
1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until it’s tender but not mushy. Drain well in a colander, add the beans and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In the empty pot (no need to wash it out), melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir well with a whisk, cooking for a minute or so until the mixture starts to turn golden. Stir in the milk and bring the sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. The sauce must reach a full boil in order for the flour to reach its full thickening potential. Reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes, until the mixture is nice and thick.
3. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheese until it melts. Add salt to taste, then stir in the pasta and beans.
4. To make bread crumb topping: Pulse bread, butter and Parmesan in a food processor until the bread turns to crumbs and the mixture is well blended. Pour the macaroni and cheese into an appropriately sized baking dish and top with the bread crumbs or additional cheese. (It can be made up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated in the baking dish; sprinkle with the crumb mixture or cheese right before you bake it.)
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the topping is golden and bubbly around the edges.
377 calories, 18 g fat (12 g saturated, 5.2 g monounsaturated, 0.8 g polyunsaturated), 58 mg cholesterol, 32 g carbohydrate, 18.6 g protein, 2.4 g fibre
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2012.