There's nothing quite as comforting as homemade macaroni and cheese.

There's nothing quite as comforting as homemade macaroni and cheese.

Traditional versions of this classic call for at least two cups of cheese, a stick of butter and whole milk or cream. That might be comforting, but it's hardly healthy.

This recipe for a lighter mac and cheese is just as satisfying with about a third of the fat. It's all in knowing where to cut the fat and where to keep it.

The sauce begins with fat-free milk mixed with flour.

But for the cheese, we stick with full-fat extra-sharp cheddar, which has tons more flavor than reduced-fat varieties and preserves the cheesiness while cutting the quantity of cheese in half.

A few teaspoons of Dijon mustard and a pinch ground ancho chili pepper are added to further intensify the flavor.

To add creaminess while cutting the fat even further, the rest of the cheese and all of the butter in the sauce are replaced with 2 percent pureed cottage cheese.

A little oil combined with dry bread crumbs and a flavorful grated cheese makes a lighter crunchy topping. A high-quality hard cheese such a Parmesan or Grana Padano will give you more flavor.

Finally, whole-grain elbow macaroni adds fiber.


Servings: 4

8 ounces whole-grain elbow macaroni

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup fat-free milk (divided)

1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground ancho chili pepper

1½ cups 2 percent cottage cheese

3 tablespoons unseasoned bread crumbs

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water, then set aside.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together flour and 2 tablespoons of the milk. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining milk over medium heat until steaming.

Gradually whisk a few tablespoons of the hot milk into the milk-flour mixture, then whisk this mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened, 1 minute.

Remove sauce from the heat and stir in cheddar cheese, mustard, salt, black pepper, ancho chili pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a food processor or blender, puree the cottage cheese until very smooth. Stir into the sauce. Stir in the cooked macaroni and spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl, stir together bread crumbs and olive oil until well blended. Stir in the Parmesan and sprinkle the mixture over the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until browned on top and bubbling.