Lightened Up Winter Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

It snowed today.

Not a lot, but enough to remind everyone that winter is right around the corner. All I want to do on days like that is to cozy up with a bowl of comfort food. Luckily, I had a big tray of this winter vegetable macaroni and cheese in the fridge. The leftovers were perfect for lunch!

I pulled out all the stops to lighten up this macaroni and cheese without sacrificing flavor – it’s about as guilt-free as it comes!  I started by swapping half the pasta for cauliflower florets. You’ll hardly even notice they’re there, but they help reduce the amount of carbs and add nutrition to this recipe. I also made the sauce with significantly less cream than traditional recipes. The sauce is still as rich and creamy as you’d hope for, but chicken stock also adds extra flavor.

Lightened Up Winter Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

This macaroni and cheese was inspired by one of our all-time favorite appetizers: goat cheese stuffed peppadew peppers. The combination of creamy goat cheese, tangy peppers, crunchy bread crumbs, and sweet balsamic is seriously yummy. Based on the number of people who have told me they love the original recipe, it seems that a lot of people agree!

I also added roasted Brussels sprouts to this mac –this time of year I’m notorious for sneaking them into everything. You can roast them ahead of time or stick them in the oven while the pasta boils.

Lightened Up Winter Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

I really like serving sparkling wine with rich meals like this one.  I always keep a few bottles in my cabinet, and I find myself reaching for them more and more often. The bubbles help cleanse your palate, plus it makes even the must boring weeknight feel a little more special.

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards is new to me, but it’s been around since 1986. José Ferrer opened it as the first sparkling wine  house in Sonoma Carneros (the southernmost region in Sonoma County) and named it after his wife. Today, their vineyard has over 335 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes and they’ve earned over 500 gold medals and 50 90+ scores.

We really enjoyed their Sonoma Brut with this winter vegetable macaroni and cheese. It’s dominated by pinot noir grapes (my favorite!) and its creamy apple flavor pairs especially well with winter flavors. It would also be amazing with roast chicken thighs or sushi.
Lightened Up Winter Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

Yields 8

Winter Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese

10 minPrep Time

30 minCook Time

40 minTotal Time

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  • 1/2 pound medium shell shaped pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups small Brussels sprouts, halved (quartered if large)
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 cups frozen cauliflower florets
  • 1 cup peppadew peppers
  • 6 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • balsamic reduction


  1. Heat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, until it's al dente. Drain.
  3. Meanwhile, toss the Brussels sprouts and fennel in olive oil and spread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake 10 minutes, turning once, or until they begin to brown.
  4. Melt the butter in a saucepan set over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the cream and broth. Bring to a simmer and let cook 5-7 minutes, or until thick and creamy.
  5. Combine the cooked pasta with sauce, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, fennel, and goat cheese. Spread in an 8-inch square baking pan. Top with breadcrumbs and bake for 10 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.
  6. Drizzle with balsamic reduction just before serving.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.