This protein-rich take on a family favorite is easy to put together, with plenty of moments to get kids involved—learning moments around safely boiling water, chopping onions, making a real cheese sauce rather than opening a dried cheese pouch, or just setting the table. Take the time to sprinkle on some fresh parsley and sit down together, savoring a team effort in getting supper on the table. If you’d rather have bite-size chunks of chicken to stir into the macaroni, cut them into ½-inch pieces before cooking them in the bacon fat.
Smoky Chicken Mac ‘N Cheese
Makes 6 servings
- 8 ounces uncooked whole wheat or brown rice pasta (fusilli, penne, macaroni)
- 4 slices thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, sliced crosswise into ½-inch pieces
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¾ teaspoon dried oregano leaves
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 cups low-fat milk
- 8 ounces (2 cups) shredded smoked gruyère, cheddar, gouda, or provolone cheese
- Chopped fresh parsley, if you’d like
- Cook the pasta according to package directions; drain well.
- Cook the bacon in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat until crisp; remove bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain fat from the pan, reserving 1 tablespoon fat.
- Season the chicken with smoked paprika, oregano, salt and pepper. Sauté the chicken in the bacon fat for about 8 minutes or until no longer pink in center and nicely browned. Set aside.
- Heat oil in the skillet over medium heat; sauté onion and garlic for about 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in the flour until well combined; stir in the tomato paste. Pour in milk; cook and stir for 5 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Stir in the cheese and cook for 3 minutes or until the melted and pasta is well coated.
- Spoon the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce; stir until well coated. Spoon into a casserole serving dish and top with sliced chicken, sprinkled with the bacon and parsley. Or serve in individual bowls, topped with the chicken, bacon, and parsley.