Spicy Pizza Mac and Cheese
If I controlled the grocery cart growing up, my family would have subsisted on Eggo waffles and boxed mac and cheese. Now that I’m grown, we subsist on Spicy Pizza Mac and Cheese instead.
Mac and cheese is deeply entwined with my childhood. Every birthday, I requested my Grammy’s homemade macaroni and cheese (my favorite meal), and on every other night, I begged for the faux-bacon, yellow-box variety (my second favorite meal).
As an adult, I’ve moved beyond the box, but I still find the decadent combination of creamy cheese and buttery pasta deeply, uniquely comforting in a way that only favorite childhood dishes can emulate.
Mac and cheese satisfies the part of me that still wants to spend my days flying kites, riding bikes, and rearranging my Beanie Babies—which is to say that it satisfies many parts of me. At the same time, however, my adult self recognizes that one cannot live from the box alone and that most mac and cheese recipes are best kept to a small side dish or for a special indulgence.
Spicy Pizza Mac and Cheese is where my Velveeta-loving inner-kid and healthy-lifestyle loving adult intersect. It has all the creamy comfort that prompted me to love the box in the first place, but is significantly lightened up and filled with bright flavors, lean protein, and veggies.
I love using macaroni and cheese as a vehicle for other favorite flavors (reference: Greek Mac and Cheese), and today’s recipe is inspired by another lifetime favorite food, pizza. While that might sound a bit odd, the two truly jive. Classic pizza cheeses (Mozzarella, Fontina) are creamy and melty—perfect for mac and cheese—and favorite pizza toppings such as pepperoni and bell peppers work equally well stirred in with pasta as they do sprinkled over a crust.
In addition to being endlessly customizable (use any pizza toppings your family loves) and lightened up (I adapted my favorite lighter cheese sauce from this Ham and Cheese Casserole to the pizza theme) another beautiful aspect Spicy Pizza Mac and Cheese is that it is truly an all-in-one dish. By adding lots of veggies and lean protein, we have a single pasta bake that hits all of the food groups. Translation: less cooking and less dishes. Spicy Pizza Mac and Cheese is also freezer friendly and tastes fabulous leftover too, which my practical adult-side adores.
All my bike-riding, Beanie-Baby playing, and responsibility-immune inner-kid knows is that Spicy Pizza Mac and Cheese is delicious. I think I need to listen to her more often.
My inner kid just did a cartwheel. This calls for seconds on Spicy Pizza Mac and Cheese.
Spicy Pizza Mac and Cheese
For the Pasta:
- 12 ounces whole wheat pasta noodles, — such as rigatoni
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion — diced
- 1 green bell pepper — diced
- 1 red bell pepper — diced
- 1 can diced tomatoes — (14 ounces) drained
- 3 ounces turkey pepperoni slices — (about 50 slices)
- 1/4 cup pitted black olives — chopped
For the Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups non-fat milk
- 1/4 cup half and half
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Wisconsin Mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Wisconsin Fontina cheese
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Wisconsin Parmesan cheese
- Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta to water and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly butter 9x13-inch baking dish.
- In Dutch oven or large, deep sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high. Sauté onion, red bell pepper and green bell pepper 2 minutes; add drained tomatoes and continue to cook until onion and peppers are crisp tender and tomato cooking liquid has thickened and mostly evaporated, about 5 minutes. With slotted spoon, remove vegetables from pan and set aside. Carefully wipe pan with paper towel.
- In same pan, melt butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in garlic and flour and cook, whisking often, until flour is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Gradually pour in milk, whisking constantly, then half and half. Cook until sauce simmers and thickens, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in red pepper flakes, salt and oregano. Stir in Greek yogurt, mozzarella and fontina. Add drained pasta and sautéed vegetables. Stir to coat.
- Roughly chop 2/3 of pepperoni. Stir into pasta mixture, reserving remaining pepperoni. Spoon pasta into prepared baking dish, then scatter olives and remaining pepperoni over top. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let rest a few minutes before serving.
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