Summer barbecues are all about staying cool while having fun in the sun. Splashing through a water sprinkler, sipping on ice cold lemonade, crunching on cool, crisp salads and slurping on a chilly slice of watermelon.
But when it comes to feeding your guests a satisfying meal, warm, hearty food is never out of season. Baked beans, warm potato salads, I’ve even seen chili served at sunny summertime get-togethers, especially as the temperature nudges down into the afternoon and evening. But the one that gets me most excited is a piping hot dish of warm, gooey mac n cheese. Maybe because it’s one a few things I remember my mom making from scratch when I was a kid. Maybe because it’s now a “special treat” kind of food I’d make to share with family and friends. Or maybe just because nothing beats carbs covered in melted cheese.
Speaking of cheese, Land O’Lakes has just launched a new variety that combines their classic, creamy American with the upscale flavors of Asiago, Romano and Parmesan. This 4 Cheese Italian Blend is available freshly sliced from your deli case, and it’s the perfect way to take your favorite picnic and barbecue recipes up a notch. To celebrate, Land O’Lakes and Kitchen PLAY have teamed up to bring you 30 Days of Outdoor Dining, a month-long culinary event featuring 30 different bloggers and 30 unique recipes to inspire your outdoor dining.
For me there is something nostalgic about American cheese: its creamy, mild flavor as a straight-from-the-fridge after school snack or melted onto hamburgers, scrambled eggs, and you guessed it, mac n cheese. As much as I love the flavor of good sharp cheddar or smoked Gouda, almost nothing beats the creamy texture of American cheese in macaroni. That’s why I knew this 4-cheese blend of stronger flavors combined with good ol’ American was the perfect ingredient to inspire a more sophisticated cheese-y baked pasta dish.
Even when I indulge in a treat, I do my best to pack in healthful punches of nutrients where I can. That’s why I opted for whole grain, gluten-free quinoa and corn pasta which provides more fiber and protein than traditional pasta (and I swear, even the pickiest eater can’t tell the difference!). Instead of full-fat milk, flour and butter to create the typical béchamel base, I melted the cheese into a creamy blend of silken tofu. Sounds crazy? I know! This low-fat, high protein ingredient is quite the gem. (And I promise – since silken tofu barely tastes like anything, the flavor of the cheese sings through loud and clear!) Speaking of cheese, this one is full of flavor, so we can get by using a little less than normal and still feel like we’re eating a rich, decadent dish. Finally, because I’ve reached a point where I’m almost bored by anything lacking colorful veggies, I threw in antioxidant-rich kale and juicy summer tomatoes.
This creamy pasta dish is perfect for enjoying outdoors along with summer’s best grilled meats or veggies. Never in my life would I have guessed that American cheese would inspire an evening out on the deck with crisp wine, juicy herb grilled chicken, creamy pasta and friends we adore, but that’s just what Land O Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend did for me. Want to see how others were inspired? Be sure to check out 30 Days of Outdoor Dining and join the party on twitter with @LandOLakesKtchn and #kitchenplay.
Creamy Italian Baked Pasta with Kale and Tomatoes
Yield: 6-8 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup (6oz) grape tomatoes, halved
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
8oz pasta of choice, gluten-free if needed, preferably whole-grain
8oz chopped fresh kale
1 12oz package firm, silken tofu (such as Mori Nu brand)
1 cup pasta water
1/2 lb sliced Land O Lakes® 4 Cheese Italian Blend, torn into quarters
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs, such as basil and thyme
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spray a 9x13" baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the tomato halves and saute until softened and beginning to blister, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper and salt. Saute for 1 more minute and remove from heat.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, adding the kale during the last 5 minutes of cooking. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water, then drain the pasta well and return to the pot.
Combine the silken tofu and pasta water in a blender and process until smooth. Add the egg and blend again. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan. Gently bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add about 1/4 of the cheese and stir until melted; repeat with remaining cheese. Turn off heat.
Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and kale and stir to combine. Fold in tomatoes and fresh herbs. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until hot and bubbly. (May be prepared ahead of time, covered, and baked just before serving.)
Amount Per Serving, Based on 6 Servings
Total Fat 15.7 g
Saturated Fat 6.6 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.4 g
Monounsaturated Fat 2.0 g
Cholesterol 57.5 mg
Sodium 584.1 mg
Potassium 17.7 mg
Total Carbohydrate 33.8 g
Dietary Fiber 2.7 g
Sugars 5.7 g
Protein 17.3 g
Be sure to check Kitchen PLAY every day for the next fabulous recipe featuring new LAND O LAKES ® 4 Cheese Italian Blend or LAND O LAKES® Deli American Cheese. Then, get in on the fun by leaving a comment with your own “30 Days of Outdoor Dining” tip for dining al fresco this summer. If you do, you’ll be entered to win a lovely grilling prize pack, including one grilling spatula, one marinade brush, one set of tongs and one grill scraper. Kitchen PLAY will be giving away four prizes total, one each week! Please visit Kitchen PLAY for sweepstakes guidelines.