Mac ‘n cheese: comfort food. On cold nights in fall and winter, a mac ‘n cheese craving is never far off.

If you’ve never strayed far from the blue box and the orange powder version of mac, you may be surprised by how simple the dish is to make at home. While a bowl of pasta, cheese, and creamy sauce will never fully count as health food, homemade mac doesn’t need to be a crazy indulgence either. We tweak ours with vegetables, interesting cheeses, and whole wheat pastas.

Nine times out of ten, the base for this creamy, comforting dish is a white sauce, or béchamel sauce, made from butter, flour, and low-fat milk. It is the most common of the five French “mother sauces.” Sauces derived from mother sauces by adding cheese or other ingredients are often called “daughter sauces.” Here are four delicious versions of those daughters in different iterations of mac ‘n cheese:

**Mac ‘n Cheese, 4 Ways**

Cauliflower Mac ‘n Cheese
This is what you get when you replace the pasta with vegetables completely. As in, crazily enough, there is no macaroni in this casserole dish. Before it bakes, the cauliflower should still be slightly crunchy, and the sauce just a little too thin. The magic really happens in the oven, when the sauce thickens, the cauliflower finishes cooking, and the crumbs become that irresistible, crunchy golden topping.
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Butternut Mac ‘n Cheese
Here, whole wheat penne replaces the traditional little elbows, and the sauce is complemented by cubes of sweet, seasonal butternut squash. Since mac ‘n cheese can be somewhat uniform, texturally, we improve the mouthfeel factor by topping with crispy breadcrumbs, something you’ll notice we do quite often.
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Cheesy Broccoli Rotini Casserole
Fall is broccoli season and the perfect time to make this tasty iteration, which uses whole grain rotini pasta, Danish Gouda cheese, and a crispy crumb topping. We highly recommend it as a way to enjoy broccoli. We couldn’t resist digging right in, but letting the casserole sit for a few minutes after baking helps it set to the perfect consistency.
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Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Ricotta and Zucchini
This dish uses a slightly different preparation. Instead of thickening milk with flour, as in a béchamel, here we pour ricotta and cream into a saucepan and cook them down until they’re a saucy consistency. Toss that with nutritious whole wheat pasta and chunks of sautéed zucchini, and you’ve created a heartwarming, satisfying dinner in almost no time.
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