Oh heavens, this dish is good. I’ll admit I had my reservations about making a mac and cheese with a full presence of feta. I like feta, I do, but wasn’t sure I would love a pasta dish with heavy feta presence. Again, like so many times in the past, I was proven wrong because this macaroni and cheese quite simply rocks.
A simple white sauce is whisked together and enhanced with sharp white cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese and feta cheese. Not to mention the fire roasted tomatoes and spinach. Despite the fact that it’s macaroni and cheese and is kind of screaming “heavy comfort food ahead!” it is quite the opposite. I found this dish, probably due in part to the dainty orzo, to be light and flavorful and perfect for a simple weeknight meal. And in all actuality, it reminded me more of a baked pasta dish (i.e. casserole) than a true macaroni and cheese dish.
It doesn’t take very long to whip up and I guess because I was eating mac and cheese loaded with tomatoes and spinach I kind of went into the lala-land of second-helpings-mean-seconds-of-veggies-too, right? In my defense, I did use a lowfat white cheddar cheese (which worked surprisingly well despite my bad past history with reduced fat cheeses – ick). This was a hands down hit with the whole family and we were all fighting for the leftovers a few nights later when it was purge-the-fridge-for-dinner night.
A quick P.S.: I have left the confines of my Northern Minnesota habitat and my family and I are currently a lot of miles west, near Yellowstone at a family reunion. So if it takes me a bit longer to respond to comments and questions, it’s probably because I’m watching geysers erupt and/or trying to get my five children to stop playing steamrollers in the tent.
I normally stay away from reduced fat cheese because of the taste/texture but ended up using a lowfat sharp white cheddar cheese (from Cabot) because it was all I could find and it worked really, really well. The texture might have been slightly different had I used a full fat cheese but we were none the wiser and it saved a few calories.
- 1 pound orzo pasta
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoon flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- 10 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
- 4 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 3/4 cup feta cheese
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 14-ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 4 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9X13-inch pan with cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook the orzo pasta until al dente according to package directions. Drain (but don't rinse) and set aside.
- While the pasta is boiling, prepare the cheese mixture. In a 2- or 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour until smooth and let the mixture cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly (this helps get rid of the floury taste).
- Gradually stir in the milk, whisking constantly, and let it cook at a very gentle simmer for 4-5 minutes until it has thickened considerably.
- Off the heat, stir in the cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, one handful at a time, making sure each addition has melted before adding the next. Stir in 1/2 cup of the feta cheese (it may not melt all the way - that's ok).
- Stir in the oregano, salt and pepper. Add the undrained diced tomatoes and the spinach. Stir the mixture well to allow the spinach to wilt down a bit.
- Stir in the cooked orzo. Spread the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup feta cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbly.
- Let sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.