Mac and cheese is a classic, well loved comfort dish and there are countless variations. But no matter what’s in it, I’ve always preferred my mac and cheese to be creamy, yet slightly crispy, from baking. And neither soupy nor dried out.

When made with just pasta and cheese, as it often is, the dish is lacking much in the way of nutritional value. Instead, it’s a high calorie, high fat and high sodium guilty pleasure. I figured there had to be a way to both meet my mac and cheese expectations while turning it into a dish with some redeeming value and without the guilt.

My answer was to cut down on the cheese and add in mashed sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes add creaminess and a vegetable component while making the reduced amount of cheese less apparent. Last week I did something similar when I made butternut squash enchiladas that contained a limited amount of cheese. I adapted (and I’d say improved upon) this recipe from Cooking Light.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against cheese. In fact, I could live on cheese and that’s the problem. Being so high in fat and with a serving size at just one ounce, it’s too easy to get carried away. So I look for ways to keep my cheese intake realistic. This may not be the cheesiest mac and cheese you’ll ever have, but it’s not a bad alternative.
You start by chopping your sweet potatoes and putting them in a medium sized pot.

Add milk, thyme, onion, garlic and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender. Simmering the potatoes right in the milk and broth imparts a ton of flavor, as opposed to just cooking them in water.

When they’re tender, remove the pot from the heat and puree with an immersion blender. Of course, you could transfer the hot contents to a standard blender and puree that way, but you’ll want to be very careful. Or if you don’t have either, you could also just mash it up for a chunkier result. Then add the yogurt, salt, pepper…

and of course, the cheese. I choose Cheddar and Fontina – a creamy, rich Italian cheese that melts well and is popular in fondue. Those just happened to be the cheeses I had at the time, so use what you like. And if you must, increase the amount of cheese.

The sweet potato cheese sauce after everything is melted and combined.

I liked this fun spiral pasta. All of the grooves and twists help capture the sauce.

See? It’s ready for the baking dish.

Every mac and cheese needs some good breadcrumbs on top. I ran some stale bread through the food processor and combined the crumbs with Parmesan and paprika before coating my pasta. Then it baked at 375F for about 25 minutes, until bubbling and browned.

Mac and Sweet Potato

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 6 + servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cubed and peeled sweet potatoes
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 4 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and stems discarded
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 3/4 cup chopped Fontina cheese
  • 1 pound spiral pasta
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Combine the sweet potatoes, broth, milk, onion, thyme and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot bring water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain well.
  4. Using an immersion blender, puree the sweet potato mixture. Add salt, pepper, Cheddar, Fontina and Greek yogurt. Stir until combined and the cheese is melted.
  5. Add the pasta to the sweet potato mixture and stir until combined. Spread mixture evenly into a large glass or ceramic baking dish.
  6. Combine the breadcrumbs, paprika, and Parmesan and top the mac.
  7. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.