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Make Pesto-Havarti Mac & Cheese with Two Peas & Their Pod

This easy "gourmet" Mac and Cheese recipe from Maria Lichty's Two Peas & Their Pod Cookbook takes just as little time as the boxed kind to make.

SEATTLE — Maria and Josh Lichty started the Two Peas & Their Pod blog after family and friends requested the recipes they used to cater their own wedding. Their favorite recipes are simple, fresh, and family-friendly.  After two years of writing, they've compiled some of their family favorites in The Two Peas & Their Pod Cookbook. Maria Lichty demonstrates how to make their recipe for Pesto-Havarti Mac & Cheese and shares a few more dishes you can find in the book.  


Excerpted from TWO PEAS & THEIR POD COOKBOOK. Copyright © 2019 by Maria Lichty.  Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Publishing.  All rights reserved.

prep: 5 MINUTES | cook: 15 MINUTES | total: 20 MINUTES | serves 6

I usually make a salad for myself on mac and cheese night, unless this version is on the menu—then I grab a bowl and join my boys. This easy “gourmet” version of the classic is my personal favorite, and yet it takes just as little time as the boxed kind to prepare. It gets its creaminess from Havarti cheese (a soft cow’s milk cheese that is super melty and gooey—you could also use mozzarella), plus a boost from fresh spinach-basil pesto. At first, the boys were wary because their mac wasn’t orange, but after one bite they were yelling for more. Now it’s a family favorite that we all get excited for.

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) whole-wheat elbow macaroni (orecchiette also works well)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 cups shredded Havarti or mozzarella cheese
  • 3 tablespoons Spinach-Basil
  • Pesto (recipe follows) or store-bought Pesto
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook just until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  2. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the flour to create a paste. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Increase the heat to medium and continue whisking until the sauce starts to thicken, about 2 minutes. Stir in the shredded cheese and continue stirring until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Fold in the pesto. 
  3. Add the pasta, stirring to combine, and cook just until the pasta is warmed through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

NOTE: This dish is a great blank canvas for all kinds of mix-ins, such as cooked chicken, broccoli, or frozen peas. And a fun variation is to turn the mac and cheese into a crunchy-topped baked casserole: Just pour the finished mac and cheese into a baking dish, sprinkle panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese over the top, and broil for 3 minutes, until the bread crumbs are golden brown.


prep: 5 MINUTES | total: 5 MINUTES | makes 1 CUP

In the summer, when our basil is growing like weeds, we make a big batch of pesto and keep it in the fridge or freezer to dig into pretty much at all times, whether we’re dolloping it on chicken, pasta, veggies, homemade pizzas, or fish; putting it out as a spread; or schmearing it on sandwiches. Our version gets an extra dose of green from spinach, which doesn’t take away from the fresh basil flavor and yet gives you an even more vibrant color and a sneaky serving of vegetables. What you won’t find here are nuts—which are traditional in pesto—because Josh is allergic. Not to worry, you won’t miss them!

  • 4 cups packed spinach leaves
  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more for a thinner pesto
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  1. In a food processor or blender, combine all the ingredients and blend for 30 seconds. Scrape the sides down with a spatula and blend again until smooth. If you want a thinner pesto, add more olive oil. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if necessary.
  2. Store in a jar or container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or pour into ice cube molds to freeze for up to 6 months.

NOTE: One of my favorite tricks is to freeze the pesto in ice cube trays, so all I need to do is pop out a few cubes and toss them in a pan for a perfectly flavorful dish.

Pesto Havarti Mac and Cheese-this stovetop mac and cheese is super creamy, cheesy, and full of flavor! It is easy to make but tastes gourmet! My boys LOVE mac and cheese. Our baked mac and cheese recipe is one of their very favorite meals.

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