Mac and Cheese for Grown-ups Recipe | Vegetarian Times Skip to main content

Mac and Cheese for Grown-ups

This baked pasta dish is a healthful interpretation of the kids' favorite.



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2 cups (8 oz.) whole-wheat penne
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1 lb. spinach leaves, trimmed
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¼ cup olive oil or butter
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¼ cup all-purpose flour
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2 cups fat-free milk
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½ cup plus 2 Tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
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2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
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¼ tsp. ground nutmeg, optional


1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 11- x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

2. Cook penne according to package directions. Drain, and set aside.

3. Heat large pot over medium-high heat. Add spinach, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until wilted, stirring with tongs to cook all leaves. Drain, and press out any excess liquid. Coarsely chop wilted spinach, and set aside.

4. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk in milk, and cook 5 minutes, or until sauce has thickened, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, then add penne, spinach, 1/2 cup Parmesan, garlic, and nutmeg, if using, to sauce, and stir until well coated. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Transfer to prepared baking dish, sprinkle remaining 2 Tbs. Parmesan over mixture, and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until top is browned.

Nutrition Information: 

13 g
Total Fat: 
13 g
Saturated Fat: 
3 g
39 g
9 mg
212 mg
5 g
6 g
Serves 6

Comments on this Recipe

I don't know what Parmesan you use in the USA but in England and the European Union, Parmesan must be made using rennet from the stomach of calves and is most definitely not suitable for vegetarians. There are animal free / vegan versions available which are a fine substitute.

Call me crazy but I fry eggs with olve oil. I even pop popcorn with it.


When I made this, I used about 4 cups of water to put the spinach in. I do not know if that is what they intended to do, but it worked great for me! My family loved it!

This was delicious! We didn't know how much water to put in so we just guessed and it came out great!

Raw spinach wilts when heated and releases some water, thus the instruction to drain it -- no need to add water to it/boil it.

I make this will almond milk and skip the parm for a vegan version that satisfies that creamy baked pasta urge. I also like it with a 1/2 cup or so of finely diced onions.

I added onions and mushrooms to mine and sprinkled breadcrumbs on top. Really good. Also, there's no reason to put the spinach in a pot and cook it. Just put it in your strainer and dump the pasta water and pasta on top when it's done. The spinach wilts immediately and drains in the strainer.

I'm sure this is a nice recipe, but the food photography sure makes it look yucky. In this day and age, with every blogger out there producing stunning food shots, this is pretty sad.

Delicious! I substituted one cup of the milk with vegetable broth to add more flavor. I also sauteed onion, squash and red bell pepper to add to the mix. I had to make it gluten free so I used spelt noodles and spelt flour. Great recipe.

OMG this is now a keeper recipe at my house! I did tweak things some: I used silk soymilk instead of milk, increased parmesian to 3/4 cup, increased spinach to 18 oz (2 bags), added 16 oz white mushrooms, and topped it all with grated parmesian/romano cheese. Also, I seasoned with salt, black pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper for a slight kick. So so yummy!

I live in Australia and I use La Vera parmesan - not only is it the best tasting but contains non-animal rennet.

To wilt spinach, you just microwave it for a minute covered. Works need to add water. You retain all the nutrients as well.

sounds interesting so I will try it with some small tweaks. thanks

Olive oil shouldn't really be used for cooking. It's great in it's raw form, like on salad dressings or cold pastas, however it does not tolerate heat very well and becomes easily damaged when used stove-top. Trying using coconut oil, butter, or ghee (clarified butter) to avoid the free radicals you risk consuming with cooked olive oil.

Use veggie Parmesan cheese b/c Parmesan cheese is not vegetarian.

vegan =/= vegetarian. vegetarians can and do eat dairy products and eggs. vegans do not. so, no, cheese is not VEGAN, but is perfectly acceptable for a vegetarian to consume.

Seriously, this is good stuff!

Just made two nights ago- turned out great! I used a little more than 2 cups of noodles, and didn't have enough sauce so some parts turned out a little bland and dry. When reheating (in the oven) I added a little vegetable broth which add the kick of flavor the leftovers needed. I also added sautéed, mushrooms, peppers and tomatoes when I ate it the second time- this dish makes a great base to all types of veggies!

Man, some of the holier than thou types are wearing me out with their "that's not vegetarian" garbage. As if there is only one way to be vegetarian.


By the way, some people use these recipes to add vegetables to their meals, not because they are vegetarians. Gasp.

Parmesan cheese is not vegetarian, why are you saying it is? It is made in the rennet of cows usually

Vegetarian Parmesan is widely available.

of course it is vegetarian - that is: not using meat, but still using animal products like milk and eggs that do not require killing the animals. what it is not is vegan, that is: not using any kind of animal product. people should start out with solid information before bladdering away...

Here at home we use soya"cheese" instead of parmesan. Problem solved... No harm in altering so it fits just ones needs. Great recipe, thx a lot.

I add broccoli, hulled hemp seeds, nutritional yeast and wheat germ to my 7yo son's mac n cheese. We both love it! Can't get him to eat it with spinach though.

As a vegetarian (not vegan), I am also conscious of trying to only use cheeses that are not made with animal rennet. Therefore no animals are killed in the process of making the cheese. Here is a resource I use for identifying such products:

Do you ever encourage using soy milk instead of cows milk and do you ever tell people that Parmesan cheese usually has rennet in it ?

If you are avoiding wheat, you can get brown rice noodles that are really good!

Yummy looks sounds amazing

You can get kosher parmesan cheese and there's no animal rennet

Just to warn everyone, Parmesan contains rennet :/ u can get a vegetarian one from health food stores...