Classic Canadian comfort food

… and an outdoor twist

Foil-wrapped macaroni and cheese on an outdoor grill along with sausages

Canadians love Kraft Dinner. I’ve yet to meet a fellow Canadian who doesn’t have strong opinions about the best variety, a not-so-secret tweak (mine is less milk, more butter, and added broccoli), or a deep certainly that homemade mac and cheese (or at least Annie’s) is better.

But does macaroni and cheese belong at a barbeque?

Yup! And it’s a delicious meat-free alternative to the standard Swiss sausages—although as evidenced by the photo, there were plenty of sausages, too.

Before yet another spring cold snap hit a few days ago, we gathered with a couple other families in a park. In keeping with corona-cautions, I made three single-family-sized portions of mac and cheese. The smaller portions made heating the mac and cheese on the grill super-easy—and the size was perfect a toddler. Once the pasta had cooled, one of our friends’ kids gleefully took over her family’s portion, bypassing cutlery and shovelling fistfuls directly into her mouth. There’s no better compliment to the cook!

The distinct lack of pre-packaged mac and cheese in Europe meant I couldn’t rely on the classic blue box. Just as well, as my culinary aptitude has evolved since my undergrad days. Broccoli, however, is still a must.

A true KD story

The classic blue box for Kraft Dinner

That broccoli-bespeckled version of Kraft Dinner once won me second place in a mac and cheese cook-off.

I was roped into an event at the University of Alberta to draw attention to funding cuts and tuition hikes, with the Student Union astutely employing Kraft Dinner as a prop. My slightly-more-nutritious version of KD competed against interpretations by a popular prof, a provincial politician, and other very-minor-university celebrities. The politician claimed top prize, leading me to suspect that the winner was selected more for political reasons than taste, but it was only smart for the Student Union to curry favour with the only contestant who had any power to actually stop the cuts!

I’m still slightly bitter not to have been declared the winner, but could never give up mac and cheese. Here’s my homemade version of that silver-medal pasta dish from my student days, with a second veggie thrown in just for fun, and an excellent option for finishing it on a barbeque or outdoor grill.

Macaroni and cheese with sneaky veggies
– on the grill or baked

Ingredients

Four foil pans filled with homemade macaroni and cheese with sneaky vegetables
  • 300g dry pasta (preferably macaroni, hörnli,* or shells)
  • 1 head broccoli (about 150g/2 cups), chopped into florets
  • A small handful frozen spinach (about 75g/1 cup), defrosted and chopped
  • 45g (3 tbsp) unsalted butter
  • 45 (3 tbsp) all-purpose flour
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed or minced
  • 500ml (2 1/2 cups) milk or a combination of milk and vegetable stock (I used half stock and half milk)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 325g (2 ½ cups) grated cheese (I used mostly cheddar and some mild Appenzeller Rahmkäse — whatever is in the fridge usually works fine)

Method

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt to taste
  • Drop pasta into boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes less than suggested on package directions; add broccoli florets for the last 3 minutes of cooking
  • Drain the pasta and broccoli (reserving a mugful of pasta water) and return to the empty pot
  • While waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook, make the cheese sauce:
    • Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat
    • Add flour and garlic and cook for 30 second, whisking constantly
    • Slowly pour in stock and milk, whisking nearly continuously
    • Cook the sauce over medium-low until it thickens, about five minutes
    • Stir in the grated cheese a little bit at a time, reserving a handful to top the finished dish
    • When the cheese is fully melted, remove the sauce from heat and stir in salt, pepper, nutmeg, and Dijon mustard — taste to see if it needs more salt, pepper, or anything else… it should be delicious!
  • Add the chopped spinach to the pasta and pour over the cheese sauce
  • Stir pasta, veggies, and sauce gently to combine — if the mixture is too dry, add spoonfuls of pasta water until the mac and cheese is creamy
  • To grill the mac and cheese, pour it into small foil pans, top with remaining grated cheese, and wrap in foil
    • Refrigerate or freeze packets, then bring them back to room temperature before grilling
    • Heat the still-wrapped packets on a grill/BBQ until the sauce gets melty, about 25 minutes (timing can vary greatly depending on the heat of the grill)
    • Remove the foil wrapping and keep grilling for a couple minutes to get it nice and bubbly
    • Let sit for a couple minutes before digging in! (Cutlery may be optional)
  • To bake the macaroni and cheese, preheat the oven to 190°F/375°F and pour the pasta and veggies into a baking dish/casserole that holds about 2.75 litres
    • Top with remaining grated cheese
    • Bake for 30 minutes until the mac and cheese is all melty and bubbly; switch to broil for the last couple minutes if you like a crustier top
    • Remove from oven and let rest for five minutes or so before serving

* Hörnli is a Swiss type of pasta that’s almost macaroni, but not quite. Helvetic Kitchen has some excellent hörnli dishes if you’re interesting making some traditional-ish Swiss dishes with this short pasta shape.

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