Every once in a while we all need a little comfort food that takes us back to our younger days… at least I know I do! For me, and I’m guessing for most of you too, cheesy pasta dishes always seem to do the trick when this craving hits. Something about the combination of tender noodles and creamy cheese sauce just makes me feel at home. :) So, when I was looking for a comfort food pick-me-up the other day, I decided to make some Mac & Cheese that’s a little more “grown up” than the blue box and on the lighter side as well. What I ended up with was this Cheesy Broccoli Chicken Mac… a delightfully creamy, updated version of a childhood favorite that kids and adults alike will enjoy. One-dish dinners like this one that are simple and better-for-you are tough to beat! With a few simple and inexpensive ingredients, you can make this tasty pasta dish too! So, assemble all of your ingredients and start cooking! Begin by preheating the oven to 375°F and spraying a baking dish with cooking spray. Next, cook your broccoli and pasta. I used a steamable bag of frozen broccoli, so 3-5 minutes in the microwave, and it was done. Super convenient! Cook your pasta at this time as well according to the package directions until the noodles are al dente, or just slightly chewy.
Next up… the sauce! Traditional cheese sauces are made with a fair amount of butter, heavy milk or cream, and loads of cheese. I’m all about making simple ingredient “trade-ups” to improve the nutrition of a recipe, so the cheese sauce in this dish uses skim milk and chicken broth to keep the fat and calories lower without sacrificing on flavor. To make the sauce, melt the butter with the canola oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the minced onion and cook over low heat for about 2 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook another minute, or until the flour is golden and well combined. Then, slowly add the chicken broth and milk while stirring or whisking the sauce. Raise the temperature to medium-high and heat until it comes to a low boil, stirring frequently. Cook the sauce for about 5 minutes or until smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
Once the sauce is thick, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the shredded cheese, mixing well until it is completely melted into the sauce. If needed, adjust the salt and pepper to your taste. Then, stir in the cooked macaroni, steamed broccoli, and cooked chicken. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. If you want a little extra crunch on top, sprinkle with a few breadcrumbs.
Bake the macaroni at 375°F for about 15-20 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and starting to brown around the edges of the pan. Then all that’s left to do is dish up and enjoy! I hope this cures your family’s comfort food craving like it did mine! :)
Cheesy Broccoli Chicken Mac
Recipe adapted from skinnytaste
- 12 oz. elbow pasta (I used Ronzoni® Smart Taste, but any high fiber or whole grain pasta will do the trick!)
- 1 (12 oz.) bag steamable frozen broccoli florets
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. canola oil
- ¼ cup freshly minced onion
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 2 cups skim milk
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 8 oz. (2 cups) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- ½ lb. (8 oz.) chicken breast, cooked and cubed
- Preheat oven to 375°F and spray a baking dish with cooking spray. Steam frozen broccoli in microwave according to package directions and cook pasta until al dente.
- Meanwhile, in a large, heavy skillet, melt butter with canola oil. Add onion and cook over low heat about 2 minutes, add flour and cook another minute, or until the flour is golden and well combined. Slowly add chicken broth and milk while whisking, and raise heat to medium-high until it comes to a low boil; cook about 5 minutes or until the sauce becomes smooth and thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
- Once the sauce is thick, remove the pan from the heat and stir in cheese, mixing well until completely melted into the sauce. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cooked macaroni, steamed broccoli, and cooked chicken. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish. If desired, top with a light sprinkle of breadcrumbs.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, until bubbling and starting to brown around the edges.
Yield: 8 servings Per Serving*: Calories 380, Total Fat 14g (Saturated 6g, Trans 0g), Cholesterol 50mg, Sodium 410mg, Total Carbohydrate 44g (Dietary Fiber 6g, Sugars 7g), Protein 23g, Vitamin A 20%, Vitamin C 45%, Calcium 50%, Iron 10% *Nutritional values are an approximation. Actual nutritional values may vary due to preparation techniques, variations related to suppliers, regional and seasonal differences, or rounding.
Leah Anderson is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with Festival Foods and is certified by the state of WI.