Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ butternut, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ cauliflower, roughly sliced
1 litre vegetable stock
1 roasted red capsicum (I use roasted capsicums from a jar)
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
1½ cups freshly grated, well-flavoured cheese (a vintage cheddar or other sharp cheese)
400g dried pasta
150g baby spinach, washed and roughly chopped
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs or panko crumbs
When my eldest recently got braces, this vegetable-laden mac and cheese was one of the few things he could manage to eat (minus the crunchy topping). Vegetables, puréed until silky, go surprisingly well as pasta sauces, especially if they are cooked in a well-flavoured stock. I vary the mix to what I have around – parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and turnips also work well and I always have a jar of roasted red capsicums in the fridge. The cheese varies depending on what I have to hand; sometimes it’s a mix of cheeses using up odd bits. Sometimes, too, I might have cream that needs using up so I replace the crème fraîche with that. The straight purée can also do double duty as soup.

Instructions

1.Preheat the oven to 200°C.
2.Heat half the butter and the oil in a wide saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion and leek, season generously with salt and cook for 5 minutes until beginning to soften.
3.Add the carrot, butternut and cauliflower, stir well to combine, add the vegetable stock, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes until all the vegetables are very tender.
4.Put the whole lot into a blender along with the capsicum and blitz until smooth, adding a little extra water if necessary to thin it to the consistency of thickened cream.
5.Add the crème fraîche and 1 cup of the cheese.
6.Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until tender, adding the spinach in the last minute.
7.Drain well, then toss with the puréed vegetables, put into a buttered baking dish, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese and dot with the remaining butter.
8.Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden. Serve with a green salad.

Recipes & food styling Ginny Grant / Photography Aaron McLean / Styling Ellen J Hemmings

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