Dinner Rush! BB&C Mac (Bacon, Broccoli and Cheddar Mac & Cheese)

As my husband loves to retort when I ask him how his workday went, “Sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug.” Regardless of your side of the motor vehicle, nothing says “time to celebrate” or “let’s get this day over with” as universally as mac & cheese.

And while I love it as much as the next guy or gal, I do still feel a bit bad about just eating a big bowl of cheese-covered starch for dinner. Call it an old habit, but a bit more nutritional balance would be nice. That’s why this mac doubles down on sensibility and cuts back on fat with two family-friendly secret weapons: cooked squash and delicious cheddar.

Stirring a box of frozen cooked squash into the cheese sauce kicks up the fiber and vitamins with an incognito yellow color that leaves any diner none the wiser. Not wanting to miss out on the “cheese” part of this equation, I also reach for a super-sharp, high-quality cheddar. I figure if there’s only room left in this pot for 1 cup of cheese, that cup had better count!

Whip up this easy stovetop mac & cheese today and relish — no matter how the day went — how deliciously the day is ending.

BB&C Mac & Cheese (Bacon, Broccoli & Cheddar Mac & Cheese)

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Ti me: 25 minutes

1 pound small-shape or short-cut pasta, such as shells or penne
1 teaspoon olive oil
8 ounces thick-cut smoked bacon, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 (10-ounce) box frozen cooked squash, defrosted
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large broccoli crown, cut into bite-sized florets

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook to al dente according to package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, place a medium pot over medium heat with the olive oil. Add the bacon to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pot and reserve on a paper towel-lined plate. Pour the residual grease out of the pot, reserving about 1 tablespoon.

Return the pot to medium heat and add the garlic; cook until aromatic but not golden, about 30 seconds. Add the flour to the pot and continue cooking for 1 minute. Add the milk and mustard to the pot and bring the liquid up to a bubble; cook, whisking frequently, until thickened, about 1 minute. Add the squash to the pot and return to a bubble. Remove the pot from the heat, whisk in the cheese, and season the sauce with salt and pepper; reserve warm.

When the pasta has 3 minutes of cooking time left, drop the broccoli into the boiling water. Drain the cooked pasta and broccoli and combine with the cheese sauce. Garnish with the reserved crispy bacon and serve.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. Patrick is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and a past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars like Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee and Paula Deen. He now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day, and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest Tweets on Twitter at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.