Nikki Dinki makes a mac ‘n’ cheese that’s healthy—with spaghetti squash—and delicious, with creamy cheese, green chiles, and Creole chicken.
Spaghetti Squash ‘Mac’ + Cheese with Green Chiles + Creole Chicken
I knew I needed to bring my “Meat on the Side” point of view to my show, “Junk Food Flip.” When our job was to flip mac and cheese into something healthy, I knew I had a secret weapon. I wanted to bring veggies to the party, to make the dish spectacular. So I made my first spaghetti squash “mac” and cheese. We served it to hundreds of people who had no idea they were eating a vegetable, but they did know that it was creamy, rich, and crazy good. Now it is a staple in my house, and this version with green chiles, creole chicken, and tomatoes takes it to the next level. It’s my go-to dinner when I want to “indulge.”
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 2 to 3 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 pound total)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Creole or Cajun seasoning blend
- 1 medium spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced (keep the white and green parts separate)
- Two 4-ounce cans green chiles
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
- 1 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese (4 ounces)
- 2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and the Creole seasoning to a resealable food storage bag large enough to hold the chicken; mush together. Add the chicken and turn the bag over several times to coat the chicken with the seasoning. Refrigerate.
2. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Using a soupspoon, scoop out the seeds and discard them. Arrange the squash, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon oil evenly over each
piece and then sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon of the salt. Bake the squash until the flesh is tender and can be easily separated with the tines of a fork, 35 to 40 minutes.
3. While the squash bakes, make the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in a large deep skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic, scallion whites, and ½ teaspoon of the salt and cook until fragrant and tender, about 5 minutes. (You don’t want the butter or garlic to burn, so reduce the heat if either starts to brown). Stir in the chiles and cook 2 minutes more.
4. Add the flour to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Pour in the milk and whisk or stir furiously to blend everything. Cook until the sauce has thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Meanwhile, using a dinner fork, gently separate the squash flesh into spaghetti-like strands; you can leave the strands in the squash shells until you need them.
5. Add the cheddar and Jack cheeses to the sauce and stir until melted. Add the squash strands and ½ teaspoon of the remaining salt and stir well. Taste the mixture and add up to 1 more teaspoon salt if you wish. Reduce the heat to low so the mixture stays warm while you cook the chicken.
6. Preheat a grill pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until lightly browned on both sides and no longer pink in the center, about 10 minutes, turning once. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 2 to 3 minutes; cut it into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle the cut tomatoes with a touch of salt.
7. To serve, divide the squash mixture equally among
Keep It Simple
• You can use a combination of any cheese you like, along with cheddar and Pepper Jack. Mozzarella, fontina, Parmesan, and Gruyère are all great for cheese sauce.
• The green chiles are readily available in every grocery store; just look next to the taco sauce or beans. They are just roasted diced green peppers, but they add big flavor.
• You can make this recipe even leaner by using 1 percent milk and a low-fat cheddar. The moisture and sweetness of the squash easily make up for the lower fat content.
• If you don’t have a seasoning blend try a combination of equal parts garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and dried thyme or dried oregano.
Yes, you are about to put a big plate of squash in front of your kids (and yourself), but I promise no one will know because all you taste is delicious cheesy goodness. Leave out the green chiles and use all cheddar for a milder taste. Try this; it’s going to be a HIT!
(Recipe from “Meat on the Side: Delicious Vegetable-Focused Recipes for Every Day” by Nikki Dinki, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016)