This is a vegetable packed version of baked macaroni and cheese that’s healthier but just as tasty as regular mac and cheese! I actually prefer this lightened-up version compared to the often overly rich original, and I especially love the bonus deep orange hue the sweet potatoes give to this dish! This dish is perfect on it’s own as a creamy, meat-free meal or have it as a mouthwatering side to another main.
How to Put It Together
This recipe looks long, but rest assured, it’s divided into three easy parts and almost half the cooking time is hands-off in the oven. Plus we can get away with using just the one large pot and one baking dish to cook it all, making clean up easy!
The first part of this recipe simply involves cooking the vegetables and pasta, which is all done using the same pot of boiling water. The second part is to then make the cheesy sauce and the last is simply to top the mac and cheese with a breadcrumb mix to make that buttery golden crust. It then goes into the oven and you can relax while it bakes into cheesy perfection!
Tips for Cooking the Vegetables and Pasta
- Cut your sweet potato into small (approximately 1 inch / 2.5 cm) cubes for quicker cooking. Mash these in your baking dish to save from having to wash another bowl.
- Make things easy by using the same cooking water to cook to your pasta. Make sure to undercook your pasta by a couple of minutes to prevent it from over cooking during the baking process.
- When you’re just about ready to remove the pasta from the stove, toss in the frozen peas to blanch them for a few seconds before draining everything together. Don’t make the mistake of cooking the peas with the sweet potatoes unless you want mashed peas too! Toss the pasta and peas together with the mashed sweet potato. Doing this has the added effect of stopping the pasta from clumping together as we leave it aside to cook the cheese sauce.
Make the Cheesy Sauce, Top with Breadcrumbs and Bake!
The cheesy sauce used in mac and cheese is a béchamel with cheese added to it. I promise terms like béchamel and roux (the mix of butter and flour that forms the base of the béchamel) sound much more complicated than they actually are and they’re actually super easy to make!
- The trick to all this is to keep stirring the whole time! It doesn’t have to be fast or vigorous, just constant. And don’t stress if you get a lump or two, you can usually whisk these out easily, or even if you can’t it won’t really negatively affect the taste of your mac and cheese!
- Rinse out the pot you used to boil the vegetables and pasta with some water and simply allow to dry for a few minutes on the stove over low heat. Once the water has evaporated, proceed with the recipe.
- We start making a roux by melting the butter completely before stirring in the flour. Add the flour in slowly while stirring constantly to prevent the formation of clumps. I find sifting the flour beforehand can also help to prevent this.
- After the roux has had a minute to cook to remove the raw flour taste, we add the milk in batches. Add half the milk, stirring constantly. until it has combined completely with the roux. It will start off a bit clumpy, but as you stir this should break down and combine. Once this happens, add the rest of the milk and the seasonings and continue to stir.
- It will take about 10 minutes or so of stirring to thicken the sauce. You’ll know it’s ready when it coats the back of a spoon and you can draw a clean line by running your finger through it.
- Take the pot off the stove and immediately add the three cheeses into the sauce. As always, if you’re serving this to strict vegetarians, make sure the cheese you use doesn’t contain animal rennet.
- Stir the sauce to combine with the cheese and then combine it all with the pasta and vegetable mixture. I find it easiest to do this by pouring the contents of the baking dish into the pot first, rather than the other way around. It also keeps the sides of the baking dish a bit cleaner (good if you’re going to be serving directly from it).
- Pour the sweet potato mac and cheese into the baking dish and top with the buttery breadcrumb topping (which is literally just breadcrumbs, butter and salt) before popping it all into the oven! Using your hands to make the breadcrumb topping is easiest even if it is a bit messy, especially as you’ll be using them to sprinkle the topping on anyway.
How to Serve
This sweet potato mac and cheese is hearty and balanced enough to have on its own as a meat-free, vegetarian main, or serve it as a side with your choice of protein.
Fried or roast chicken is always a tasty, classic accompaniment. We’ve found this dish also goes really well with meatballs too!
How to Store
Keep this dish covered in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in the oven or as portions in the microwave. Also suitable to freeze for up to 3 months.
If you try this recipe, please let us know how you went in the comments below!
- 500g sweet potato (approx. 1 large), peeled and cubed
- 2/3 cup (100g) frozen peas
- 250g / 8 oz macaroni pasta
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 2 cups (500ml) milk
- 1/2 tsp mustard powder
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder (or 1 clove of garlic, minced)
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 cup (110g) grated cheddar cheese
- 1 cup (110g) grated mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup (25g) grated parmesan cheese
- 3/4 cup breadcrumbs (panko or regular)
- 2 tbsp (30g) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 tsp salt
Sweet Potato, Peas and Pasta
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add the cubed sweet potato. Allow to cook until softened, about 12 minutes. Strain and remove the sweet potato to the baking dish that will be used for the mac and cheese (we used a square ceramic dish that measured 7cm x 31cm x 25cm).
- Bring the water in the pot back to the boil, add 2 tsp of salt to the water and add the pasta. Cook the pasta as per the instructions on the pack MINUS two minutes of cooking time. While this is cooking, use a potato masher or a fork to mash the cooked sweet potato.
- Once the pasta is ready, toss the frozen peas into the water to blanch for 30 seconds before draining the pot and adding the peas and pasta to the mashed sweet potato. Give everything a stir to mix the sweet potato through and cover and set aside while you make the cheese sauce.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F (160°C Fan).
- In either the same pot as before (rinsed out and dried) or another pot (big enough to fit the pasta and veg mix + the sauce), melt the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir for a minute or two until well combined. Consistent stirring will help prevent any clumps from forming.
- Pour the milk into the pot in two batches, stirring constantly between each and adding the second batch in once the first has combined completely with the butter/flour mixture.
- Add in the mustard, garlic and onion powders, paprika, salt and pepper and continue stirring until the mixture has thickened into a cream-like consistency. This may take about 10 minutes. See the recipe post for additional tips regarding these steps.
- Once thickened, remove the sauce from the stove and add in all the cheese and stir.
- Pour the pasta mixture into the pot with the cheese sauce and combine. Taste and season with additional salt if desired.
- Pour the mac and cheese mix back into the baking dish and smooth the top off with the back of a spoon.
- Using clean hands, rub the breadcrumbs, softened butter and salt together in a small bowl. Sprinkle this mixture over the top of the mac and cheese just before it goes into the oven,
- Pop the mac and cheese into the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden. Serve warm.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 6
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 568Total Fat: 23.2gSaturated Fat: 13.8gCholesterol: 64mgSodium: 1534mgCarbohydrates: 69.4gFiber: 6.1gSugar: 13.7gProtein: 21.4g
Nutritional information provided is an estimation only and may differ depending on your own individual ingredients