Hello, Monday. I love you/hate you. I love you because you signify a fresh start. A new energized beginning. And I hate you because…well…I’m sleepy. And want to go back to the weekend full of gardening, grilling, relaxation, and mojitos. I guess Monday mojitos could be a thing? Uh huh. Yup. Yes.
Despite my conflicting feelings about this particular day of the week, I am feeling especially positive this week. Maybe it’s the endorphins. I’ve gotten back on track with exercise lately (after a longer-than-I-like-to-admit hiatus), and it’s doing wonders in every aspect of my life. But this isn’t news. Exercise always has this effect on things, doesn’t it? Regardless, it’s gotten me into a good mood and given me tons of energy. And I’m riding that wave as long as possible. Especially on Mondays.
Meal planning for the upcoming week is one of my most dreaded tasks. Not because I hate cooking (we all know that’s not true), but more so because it’s another thing on my seemingly endless to-do list. For some reason, Monday night dinners are always the most challenging for me.
They usually consist of weekend leftovers or a sad (wonderful?) plate of cheese and crackers. I go to work all day and then come home to my incredibly energetic, demanding toddler who has no concept of “Mama is tired” (I know my problems aren’t special, by the way. I’m grateful and blessed…but man, do Mondays challenge my attitude), and the last thing I want to do is cook. Instead, I’m like “bring me all.the.wine.” It’s not pretty.
BUT! I’m making the most of this week. I refuse to let Monday take me hostage. Again, blame the endorphins.
After I shared this incredible one-pot meal a few weeks ago and received such wonderful feedback from so many friends (both in real life and on the internets), I was inspired to create another one. This time in the form of mac and cheese. With some healthy twists. Perfect for a Monday night meal!
This healthy, easy pasta comes together in no time at all. The method is the same as the cheesy beef pasta. Everything happens in one pot, which also helps with the Monday blues. Fewer dishes to clean make everyone happier. Fact. It also helps that this won’t make you feel guilty. At all. Not when there are copious amounts of green veggies like broccoli and spinach. Not when you use whole-wheat pasta instead of regular. Sure, there’s some milk and cheese involved (what kind of mac and cheese would it be if not?), but it all balances out in the end. This is a complete and well-balanced meal in one dish. In one pot.
And there’s nothing, absolutely NOTHING, wrong with that. Especially when it tastes as good as this one does. It goes perfectly with Monday evenings (and a glass of white wine won’t hurt things either. Because…it’s still Monday).
Endorphins or not.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 head of broccoli, chopped into bite-sized florets
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 cups baby spinach, lightly chopped
3 cups milk
2 cups low-sodium chicken or veggie broth
3 cups medium shell pasta (or other short pasta)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese (or you can use all cheddar)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)
To a large skillet or shallow pot, add the olive oil and butter and place over medium-high heat. Add the onions, pepper, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add in the broccoli, red pepper flakes (if using), and baby spinach. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach is wilted.
Add the milk and broth and stir well to combine. Add the pasta and another pinch of salt and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.
Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is cooked through and the mixture is thickened.
Add in the cheeses, stirring well to combine. The mixture should be creamy and cheesy. Add another splash of milk if it gets too thick. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Garnish with a little chopped parsley and serve.