These are some strange times we’re living in. I have a tendency to be a hermit on the weekends – I often stay in my PJs reading library books and don’t leave house – so the “social distancing” requirements probably aren’t having as big an effect on me as others. But I’m not a complete introvert – I consider myself an “ambivert,” needing equal doses of social time and alone time. I’m used to going to the office every day and getting social interaction that way. I usually stop by my parents’ house at least twice a week for a visit. Also, since I’m not the greatest planner, I frequently either pick up food or stop at the grocery store on my way home. I’ve been teleworking for a couple of weeks now, so even these options for interaction are gone.
And it’s a scary time. I’m not super extreme, but I do have concerns. I have two full sets of parents, all in the vulnerable age range, that I worry about. I worry about my friends’ parents. I worry about myself and my friends who have asthma and other conditions. I worry about my siblings and their families, all stuck at home together all day – maybe not that COVID-19 will get them, but that it may go all Hunger Games inside their houses.
I find myself needing comfort food. Bread, pasta, potatoes – my carb consumption is higher than ever. One of my favorite comfort foods is the broccoli cheddar soup from a local restaurant called Pacific Pasta & Grill. I’ve called in to-go orders enough over the years that when I give my name, they’ve been known to say, “I thought that was you!” On one of the rare occasions when I ordered something else, the gal said “Hey, you’re mixing it up!”
I like it because it’s a very thin, creamy soup. So many broccoli cheddar soups are very … thick. Almost gluey? (Plus, PP&G puts mushrooms in theirs, which I LOVE.) The manager told me once that they start with their Alfredo sauce as the base, which may explain why I like it so much, because I also think they have the best Alfredo, not to mention the best bread sticks. I miss you, PP&G!
So, I used their soup as my inspiration for this week. Instead of the typical bechamel sauce that starts with butter and flour, I started with my favorite Alfredo recipe that I’ve been making for several years. I chose orecchiette pasta (“little ears”) because I thought the cup shape would hold lots of extra sauce nicely. And although fresh broccoli would have been nice, I used frozen, because that’s what I had!
Broccoli Cheddar Mac
Note: The measurements for the butter, cream/milk, and cheese are for a double batch of sauce.
- 8-12 ounces frozen broccoli, steamed and trimmed (see notes)
- 12 ounces orecchiette macaroni
- ½ cup butter
- 1½ cups heavy cream (see notes)
- ½ cup whole milk (see notes)
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan, plus up to ¼ – ½ cup more depending on desired consistency (see notes)
- 1½ cups shredded medium cheddar, plus up to ½ cup more depending on desired consistency (see notes)
Steam broccoli until tender. (I love my Pampered Chef microwave steamer for this.) Drain and set aside. After it cools, trim if desired (see notes).
Boil pasta in salted water until tender, stirring occasionally. For me personally, this was not a time to go al dente, I wanted them pretty soft. The orecchiette were thicker than some other shapes I’ve used, and they tended to clump up in stacks, so some were a little more chewy than I would have preferred. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.
In a medium-sized pot, heat butter over medium-low heat until melted. Stir in the cream and milk and simmer approximately 5 minutes. You’ll want this fairly hot, but not bubbling, so adjust the temperature and/or time as needed. Add the Parmesan cheese and stir until completely melted. Add the cheddar and again stir until completely melted. I wanted this very thin, and I still ended up adding another ¼ – ½ cup of grated cheddar.
Place the drained pasta in a large bowl and pour the cheese sauce over it, coating to desired level. I wanted this right on the verge of soupy, so I made a double batch of the “cheddar alfredo,” and still had quite a bit remaining. It probably would have been fine to just increase it to 1½ the amount.
Add the broccoli and stir so that it is mixed in evenly.
Top with additional grated cheddar if desired and enjoy!
This may be my favorite one I’ve made so far. Other than some of the pasta shells being slightly chewier than I wanted, this was pretty much exactly what I envisioned. I even had it for breakfast again the next morning!
- It’s a minor nitpick, but sometimes the broccoli florets in restaurant soups are HUGE, and not always tender enough to cut up with a spoon. I steamed a package of frozen broccoli, drained it, and then used my kitchen shears to trim most of the stalks, and even “shave” the tops a little to get really small pieces and individual little dots.
- The Alfredo sauce recipe I used only calls for cream, but (a) I wanted a runnier sauce and thought milk would help with that; and (b) I only had 1 ½ cups of cream on hand and needed 2 cups of liquid.
- The Alfredo recipe calls for 1 cup of shredded Parmesan for a single batch, so since I was making a double batch and wanted to incorporate cheddar, I split the measurements evenly. I used a medium cheddar as I wanted this to be fairly mild.
Posted March 29, 2020