Christmas/ Pasta

Spinach and Ricotta Mac and Cheese

spinach and ricotta mac and cheese

This Spinach and Ricotta Mac and Cheese makes for a great vegetarian pasta dish. Filled with thyme, sage, leeks all in a creamy cheese sauce.

If cheesy and creamy pasta is your thing. Or maybe you’re a mac and cheese fiend. You’ve landed in the right place.

A mac and cheese with a creamy cheese sauce is one of those things that immediately puts me in a good mood. It’s feel good food and the comfort it provides is unparalleled.

This is basically mac and cheese meets spinach and ricotta. And the two work beautifully together. After all, it’s only fitting for a mac and cheese to contain another cheese.

The spinach and ricotta add an additional layer of texture and flavour which contrasts the smooth creaminess of the cheese sauce. Which is honestly very welcomed.

The mac and cheese portion itself contains leeks, sage, thyme, nutmeg, and black pepper. Along with mature cheddar and double Gloucester. It’s a sauce packed with flavour and it’s also perfectly balanced (in my opinion).

spinach and ricotta mac and cheese

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to mac and cheese and cheese sauces. From the cheeses, to the method, to the type of milk – there are a lot of opinions.

And I’m here to share mine, personally a bechamel base is always the way to go. The roux emulsifies the cheese sauce to help prevent splitting, thus avoiding pools of oil and a curdled sauce that can be one of the pitfalls of a mac and cheese.

The other methods tend to use evaporated milk as it has a higher concentration of protein micelles which act as emulsifiers . In turn keeping the sauce intact.

spinach and ricotta mac and cheese

For this recipe, I’m using a combination of mature cheddar and double Gloucester (you can also use red Leicester). The mature cheddar adds a good hit of that classic cheese flavour whilst the double Gloucester adds creaminess and a rich mouthfeel. The key is to use a combination of cheeses rather than just one.

Different cheeses add different flavours and textures, and this is honestly where you can get creative. I’ll list some common choices below and the impact they have. Feel free to use any cheese you like for this recipe:

  • Mature cheddar – an essential in my opinion as it provides the classic ‘cheese’ flavour
  • Gruyere – a hugely popular choice do its creaminess and nuttiness
  • Parmesan – this adds nuttiness, saltiness, and major umami. I’m using a vegetarian pecorino in this one but that can be subbed with parmesan
  • Mozzarella – if you’re a fan of the stringy, stretchy cheese sauce, then this might be worth considering. Otherwise it’s a fairly mild cheese
  • Cream cheese – this is a popular choice for baked mac and cheeses as it helps to retain a degree of creaminess after baking
spinach and ricotta mac and cheese

If you’ve ever tried a spinach ricotta lasagne, ravioli, or tortellini before. Imagine that filling layered inside a mac and cheese. It adds another layer of cheesiness albeit a different kind. It’s made with ricotta, blanched spinach, pecorino, generous amounts of black pepper, and nutmeg.

Ricotta adds a creaminess with a slight bit of graininess. I know that sounds weird, but if you’re familiar with ricotta, you’ll get what I mean. Getting mouthfuls of spinach and ricotta when eating this Spinach and Ricotta Mac and Cheese honestly takes it up a notch.

This is down to personal preference and how deeply you want to fall into the cheese experience. Both options are great but offer different flavours and textures.

Personally, as much as I love cheese, there has to be a point where I think there’s enough. With mac and cheeses being so rich and cheesy, I like a contrast on top. So I always opt for a herb and breadcrumb topping. I’ve gone for sage and breadcrumbs for this one.

But add more cheese on top if you want the traditional crispy, gooey, cheesy finish.

spinach and ricotta mac and cheese

You could eat this as a meal on its own, or serve with a few different sides. And the sides can honestly be anything you fancy. From a mixed green salad, to roasted broccoli, to an aubergine parmigiana.

Anything goes here, I would never turn down a garlic bread. There are no set rules to what you should serve with any mac and cheese (as far as I’m concerned).

I’ll cover the main ones below but the full recipe can be found at the end

  • Herbs – sage, thyme, and bay leaves are our star herbs. Sage and thyme always immediately make me think of winter and cosy comfort food
  • Milk – you can use any milk of preference, I always find semi skimmed or whole milk works best
  • Spinach – we’ll be blanching the spinach, but you can actually skip this process if you want to use some thawed frozen spinach instead
  • Cheeses – the cheeses we’re using here are cheddar, double Gloucester/red Leicester, ricotta, and pecorino (all of mine were certified vegetarian but check your packaging if you’re also vegetarian)
  • Breadcrumbs – I always use panko, I love how they crisp up. But feel free to use any breadcrumbs you like
  • Don’t skimp out on the cheese – it’s a mac and cheese (it needs it)
  • Don’t use pre-grated cheese – I cannot emphasise this enough, the pre-grated cheeses are coated in starch which prevent them from melting properly. Grate a block of cheese for this recipe
  • Cook the macaroni one minute under – just before it’s al dente as it will continue to cook during its brief stint in the oven

How to make the cheese sauce

1) Start by melting butter in a saucepan

2) Once melted, add in the leeks, garlic, sage, and thyme. Continue to sauté everything together for around 10 minutes over a medium heat, until the leeks are just starting to caramelise

3) Then add in the flour and whisk for around a minute to incorporate. It will very quickly form a thick paste with the leeks

4) Then gradually add the milk in 4 increments, whisking well between each addition to ensure no lumps remain

5) Keep whisking thoroughly to prevent lumps forming

6) Once the last bit of milk has been added, continue whisking until the béchamel sauce starts to thicken. Alternate between a spatula and a whisk to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom and burning

7) The sauce will thicken within 5-10 minutes of cooking

8) At this point, reduce the heat to the lowest and add in the grated cheeses. Whisk continuously until the cheeses are completely melted into the sauce

9) The sauce should now be thick, creamy, and cheesy. Remove the thyme stems at this point (the leaves will have fallen off)

10) Finish the mac and cheese sauce with black pepper, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt (the cheeses already add seasoning)

How to make the Spinach and Ricotta mix

Note: These steps can be omitted if using frozen spinach, simply thaw out and squeeze to remove excess moisture

1) For the spinach and ricotta filling, start by blanching the spinach in boiling water for 30 seconds

2) Then immediately strain out, as blanching is a very quick process

3) Transfer the spinach to a bowl full of ice cold water – this halts the cooking process to prevent them overcooking

4) Squeeze the spinach to remove as much moisture as possible

5) Roughly chop the spinach and add to a bowl along with the ricotta, pecorino, nutmeg, salt, and pepper

6) Mix the spinach and ricotta mixture until combined, then set aside

Baking the Spinach and Ricotta Mac and Cheese

1) Boil the macaroni 1 minute under the packaging instructions. Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl, then pour on all of the cheese sauce

2) Mix the macaroni and cheese sauce together

3) Add half of the mac and cheese to the baking tray, and then dollop over 2/3rd of the spinach and ricotta mixture

4) Add the rest of the mac and cheese on top, followed by the remaining spinach and ricotta

5) Toast some sage in olive oil for around 1 minute

6) Then pour on top of the breadcrumbs. Mix the breadcrumbs together well to coat them all in oil

7) Top the mac and cheese with the breadcrumbs in an even layer

8) Place the mac and cheese in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then finish under the grill till golden brown on top

Can this Spinach and Ricotta Mac and Cheese be prepared in advance?

It can, to prepare in advance I have two tips. First, I actually recommend washing the macaroni under cold water before mixing with the sauce. I know this sounds strange, but it removes extra starch that can lead to the pasta drying up.

And secondly, I would add an additional 200ml of milk to the sauce to account for the pasta drying up as it sits in the fridge. Assemble everything as normal, then cover the baking tray with clingfilm or a lid until ready to bake.

Can we do a cheese topping instead of breadcrumbs?

Absolutely, feel free to grate more cheese and add on top. There are no rules to this, both options are great.

If you enjoyed this recipe

Please do let me know! Leave a review and a rating below, I’d love to know how you got on.

You can also tag me on Instagram at @dish_by_rish. Or follow me on FacebookPinterestYoutube, and TikTok to keep up with all my cooking and baking creations.

Until then, happy cooking!

spinach and ricotta mac and cheese

Spinach and Ricotta Mac and Cheese

Yield: serves 6
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

This Spinach and Ricotta Mac and Cheese makes for a great vegetarian pasta dish. Filled with thyme, sage, leeks all in a creamy cheese sauce.

Ingredients

  • 400g dried macaroni
  • Salt for boiling

For the mac and cheese sauce:

  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Handful of sage (around 20)
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 60g butter
  • 45g plain flour
  • 1L of milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1tsp black pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • 225g cheese, grated (but not pre-grated), I recommend 150g of double Gloucester/red Leicester and 75g of mature cheddar

For the spinach and ricotta:

  • 250g fresh spinach, see notes if using frozen
  • 250g ricotta
  • 25g pecorino, finely grated (or any hard cheese of choice)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2tsp black pepper
  • 1/4tsp ground nutmeg

For the breadcrumb topping:

  • 40g panko breadcrumbs, or any breadcrumbs of choice
  • Handful of sage (around 20), roughly chopped
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions

For the mac and cheese sauce:

  1. Start by melting butter in a saucepan. Once melted, add in the leeks, garlic, sage, and thyme. Continue to sauté everything together for around 10 minutes over a medium heat, until the leeks are just starting to caramelise
  2. Then add in the flour and whisk for around a minute to incorporate. It will very quickly form a thick paste with the leeks
  3. Then gradually add the milk in 4 increments, whisking well between each addition to ensure no lumps remain. Make sure to whisk thoroughly to prevent lumps forming
  4. Once the last bit of milk has been added, continue whisking until the béchamel sauce starts to thicken. Alternate between a spatula and a whisk to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom and burning. The sauce will thicken within 5-10 minutes of cooking
  5. At this point, reduce the heat to the lowest and add in the grated cheeses. Whisk continuously until the cheeses are completely melted into the sauce
  6. The sauce should now be slightly thick, creamy, and cheesy. Remove the thyme stems at this point (the leaves will have fallen off)
  7. Finish the mac and cheese sauce with black pepper, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt (the cheeses already add seasoning)

How to make the Spinach and Ricotta mix:

Note: The blanching steps can be omitted if using frozen spinach, simply thaw out and squeeze to remove excess moisture

  1. For the spinach and ricotta filling, start by blanching the spinach in boiling water for 30 seconds. Then immediately strain out (blanching is a very quick process)
  2. Transfer the spinach to a bowl full of ice cold water - this halts the cooking process to prevent them overcooking
  3. Then squeeze the spinach to remove as much moisture as possible
  4. Roughly chop the spinach and add to a bowl along with the ricotta, pecorino, nutmeg, salt, and pepper
  5. Mix the spinach and ricotta mixture until combined, then set aside

For the breadcrumb topping:

  1. Toast the sage in olive oil in a small pan over a medium heat for around 1 minute
  2. Then pour on top of the breadcrumbs. Mix the breadcrumbs together well to coat them all in the oil evenly

Baking the Spinach and Ricotta Mac and Cheese:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200'C (fan)/220'C (conventional) - 390'F/430'F
  2. Boil the macaroni 1 minute under. Drain and transfer to a large mixing bowl, then pour on all of the cheese sauce. Mix the two together well
  3. Add half of the mac and cheese to a 31cmx20cmx7cm/12"x8"x3" baking tray, and then dollop over 2/3rd of the spinach and ricotta mixture
  4. Add the rest of the mac and cheese on top, followed by the remaining spinach and ricotta
  5. Top the mac and cheese with the breadcrumbs in an even layer
  6. Place the mac and cheese in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then finish under the grill till golden brown on top (if needed)

Notes

Note: The blanching steps can be omitted if using frozen spinach, simply thaw out and squeeze to remove excess moisture

Nutrition Information
Yield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 736Total Fat 41gSaturated Fat 22gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 16gCholesterol 102mgSodium 863mgCarbohydrates 63gFiber 12gSugar 11gProtein 33g

This is an automated calculation and hence may not be entirely accurate.

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