Greek-style macaroni and cheese inspired by the flavours of spanakopita
It’s hard to know what constitutes comfort food for some people. Often comfort comes from memories that are associated with a particular food, even more so than what it actually tastes like. Ultimately, we believe that comfort food tastes like home, safety, happiness and love. It’s not unusual for comfort food to be hearty and humble. They are often stews or soups, meals with rich sauces, and very frequently, they are full of cheese.
Mac and cheese is a popular comfort food, and it rates high in our families as well. For one of our husbands, a rough day at work or a need for indulgence means boxed mac and cheese (you know, the kind with the powdered orange cheese in the package) with fried ground beef mixed in. Topped with ketchup and freshly cracked black pepper, and you have a very satisfied man.
As kids we had those boxed mac and cheese meals as well on occasions, whenever we were able to sneak them into the grocery cart. But our mother, finding it unnecessary (and perhaps unable) to read the directions would boil the little elbow macaroni and sprinkle the orange packaged cheese on top as if it were mizithra. There was no butter or milk added to make the cheese sauce- in fact, when we first had mac and cheese prepared “the proper way” we were kind of astounded.
Although we would never deny the joy that the convenience mac and cheese boxes provide, we think that we can offer something equally comforting, and way more delicious. A large part of the appeal of mac and cheese is of course, the cheese, and in this Spanakopita mac and cheese we include 4 different cheeses for a meal that we are very comfortable sharing with all of you.
What is graviera cheese and where can I find it? If I can’t find graviera cheese, what can I use instead?
Graviera cheese is a hard Greek cheese which is made usually from sheep’s milk. You will find graviera made in various parts of Greece and it is in fact the second most popular Greek cheese, after feta. You can find it in many well stocked Mediterranean or Greek markets and online. If you really can’t find graviera cheese, you can substitute it here for any firm buttery cheese, like gruyere, but the taste will not be the same.
Can I still make this recipe if I don’t have buttermilk?
Sure you can. You can either substitute the buttermilk called for in this recipe with more whole milk, or you can make sour milk by adding 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or white vinegar to the whole milk substitute. Stir and let sit for a few minutes until the milk curdles slightly.
Is there a way to make this spanakopita mac and cheese even creamier?
Yes! You can decide not to bake the mac and cheese and this will give you an extremely creamy meal. A few alterations to the recipe would include:
- Cook the macaroni until completely done.
- Cook down the spinach, dill and green onion by sautéing it in a frying pan (with only the water clinging to the spinach leaves) prior to adding it to the cheese sauce
Looking for more spanakopita inspired recipes? Check out these original ideas:
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Spanakopita mac and cheese
- 9 x 11 inch casserole dish
- 400 grams dry elbow macaroni about 3 cups
- 1 tsp salt
- 250 grams spinach
- 1/3 cup loosely packed chopped dill
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) butter
- 1/4 cup (37 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk
- 2 cups (500 mL) whole fat milk
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1/4 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 cup (250 grams) ricotta cheese
- 250 grams shredded graviera cheese
- 250 grams crumbled Greek feta
- 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup (25 grams) grated mizithra cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set rack in the middle.
- Fill a large pot with water, add 1 tsp of salt and bring to a boil. Add in the elbow macaroni, reduce heat to medium and cook until almost done. See note.
- While the macaroni is boiling, wash your spinach and remove any tough stems. Chop your spinach roughly and add the dill and green onions to it. Set aside.
- Begin to prepare your cheese sauce by adding the butter and flour to a large pot. Over medium high heat melt the butter and stir frequently until the flour takes on a pale brown color. Carefully add in the buttermilk, the milk, the paprika, onion powder, salt and pepper.
- Cook, stirring regularly, until the sauce begins to thicken; this should take approximately 5 minutes.
- Once your sauce has thickened add in the ricotta cheese, the grated graviera and the crumbled feta. Stir until all of the cheese has melted.
- Next add in the spinach, dill and green onion mix. If the spinach is still somewhat wet after being washed, that's okay. Reduce heat to medium low and cook, stirring regularly, until the spinach appears wilted in the sauce. Remove from the heat.
- Drain your pasta if you have not already done so and add the pasta to the cheese and spinach sauce. Mix well until everything is well combined.
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 11 inch casserole dish. Pour in the macaroni and cheese mixture and using a rubber spatula smooth out the top.
- In a small bowl whisk together the bread crumbs and the mizithra cheese and then sprinkle it evenly over the casserole.
- Bake, covered, in the middle rack of your oven for 20 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.
- Remove the mac and cheese from the oven and allow to cool for approximately 5 - 10 minutes before serving.