A few months ago, when I was living out of home for prac, I decided to try Nigella Lawson’s “Sweet Potato Macaroni Cheese”. I really liked it, so I thought it was about time to make it again, for my family. Because I am me, I decided that I’d like to see how it turned out with wholemeal pasta instead of white. And then I thought adding in some spinach might be nice… And then before I knew it, I had a bloggable recipe.
What does it mean when something is low GI?
A fun fact I learnt when I was on the aforementioned prac was that all pasta is low GI. But what does that mean?
Baker IDI does a great fact sheet on carbohydrates and GI, but in a nutshell: GI stands for Glycaemic Index, which measures how quickly carbohydrate foods are digested and increase blood glucose (sugar) levels. When something is low GI, it is digested more slowly and causes a lower blood glucose peak. This means that by opting for more low GI products rather than high GI, your energy and blood glucose levels will stay more consistent over the day, and you will feel full for longer.
Low GI foods include those with wholegrains and those high in fibre, which matches up with many health messages I’ve mentioned previously, such as in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
When thinking about things like blood glucose levels, the amount of carbohydrate in food is also really important. In addition, other nutrients such as fat and protein can slow down digestion, so a chocolate bar can appear to be low GI if it’s high in fat, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy! GI isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it can be one useful tool for making healthier choices.
Great! But if all pasta is low GI, why choose wholemeal?
Fibre, of course! According to the AUSNUT 2011-13 AHS Food Nutrient Database, cooked wholemeal pasta has 3.7g more fibre per 100g than its white equivalent. It’s also a little higher in many vitamins and minerals – not by much, but if you’re of the mindset that every little bit counts, it’s another pro. Take a look at the table below of details (per 100g).
What differences did the modifications make?
This recipe serves 6. Per serve, my version had 3.7g more fibre than the original. See below for more nutritional info.
The recipe – Cheesy Sweet Potato and Spinach Pasta Bake
(Because it’s not really macaroni cheese without macaroni.)
- 500g sweet potatoes
- 300g wholemeal pasta
- 4 tbsp soft unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 500mL low-fat milk
- 1 tsp english mustard
- ¼ tsp paprika (plus another quarter teaspoon to sprinkle on top)
- 125g cheddar cheese, grated (plus 25g/quarter cup to sprinkle on top)
- 100g feta cheese
- 1-1 1/2 cups (50g) baby spinach
- 4 fresh sage leaves
- salt (to taste)
- pepper (to taste)
- Preheat the oven to 200°C. Boil water in largeish pan.
- Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them roughly into 2–3cm pieces. When the water’s boiling, add salt to taste, and then the sweet potato pieces, and cook them for about 10 minutes or until soft. Scoop them into a bowl with a slotted spoon and lightly mash with a fork, without turning them into a purée. Reserve water.
- In another saucepan, gently melt the butter and add the flour, whisking to form a roux, then take the pan off the heat, slowly whisk in the milk and, when it’s all combined and smooth, put back on the heat. Exchange your whisk for a wooden spoon, and continue to stir until your gently bubbling sauce has lost any floury taste and has thickened. Add the mustard, paprika and cheddar. Season to taste.
- Cook the macaroni in the sweet potato water until al dente. Drain (reserving some of the pasta cooking water first) and then add to the mashed sweet potato, and fold to combine.
- Crumble the feta cheese into the sweet potato and pasta mixture, then fold in the white sauce and spinach. Add some of the pasta cooking water, if it needs loosening up at all.
- Check for seasoning again, then spoon the macaroni cheese into 4 small ovenproof dishes of approx. 375–425mL/1½-1¾ cup capacity (or 1 large rectangular dish measuring approx. 30 x 20 x 5cm deep and 1.6L/6½ cup capacity). Sprinkle the remaining cheddar over each one, dust with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of paprika, then shred the sage leaves and scatter over the top.
- Put the pots on a baking tray, pop into the oven and bake for 20 minutes (or, if you’re making this in a larger dish, bake for 30–35 minutes), by which time they will be piping hot and bubbling.
Note: You can make this 1 day ahead! When the pasta has cooked, reserve 100ml of the cooking water and add this to the white sauce (it may look a little thin but the pasta absorbs the sauce as it cools). Transfer to the ovenproof dishes (without the sage topping). Once cool, cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Sprinkle with the cheddar, paprika and sage just before baking and cook for an extra 5–10 minutes, checking that the macaroni cheese is piping hot in the centre before serving.
I love this recipe. What’s not to like? Cheese, pasta, sweet potato… It retains the gooey, cheesy comfort food feeling of mac and cheese whilst adding some vegies. Considering less than 4% of adults aged over 19 actually meet recommendations for daily serves of vegetables (ABS), this can only be a good thing.