Meatless Monday: Vegetarian Pepperoni Pizza Mac and Cheese

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My 15-year-old stepson has been a vegetarian his entire life, by his own choosing. The few exceptions around that came when he was really little… He and my husband used to enjoy garlic clam pizza at Golden Boy in San Francisco when Vincent was still a toddler. On another occasion, little Vincent ate fish sticks, only to find out they were actually fish. “No one told me fish sticks had fish in them!” he told my husband.

But one day when he was about 10 or so, Vincent came home from school and told us, “I tried meat today! I had pepperoni pizza and it was GOOD!” Of all the things he could’ve had as a first non-seafood meat experience, pepperoni had been the most enticing. As a vegetarian, it is one particular ingredient that doesn’t have a very good meatless alternative. Yves Veggie Cuisine does make a vegetarian pepperoni, but its never quite worked to replace the meat version, since it lacks the same spiciness and general greasiness.

Recently I figured out how to spice up these veggie pepperonis in a way that works for us. Of course adding oil, salt, and spice makes them slightly less healthy – but certainly they still remain healthier than “real” pepperoni! Its certainly a staple on pizza night, but the other day while laying in bed at 1AM I thought to myself, what the hell would pepperoni pizza macaroni and cheese be like?!  Aaaand the next day I decided to find out!

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Vegetarian Pepperoni Pizza Mac and Cheese

Serves 6-8 people.

Ingredients:

For the sauce:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
7 ounces extra sharp white cheddar, shredded
4 ounces havarti cheese, shredded
3 ounces fontina cheese, shredded

2 packages Yves Meatless Pepperoni
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 cup marinara sauce
1 8 ounce ball fresh mozzarella, broken into bite size pieces
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 pound elbow macaroni

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Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a large casserole dish (a deep 9×13-inch pan works, too).

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, until smooth. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisking constantly, add in the milk. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens (4 to 5 minutes). Stir in the salt, ground pepper, dried parsley, oregano, and granulated garlic.

Add the cheese in, about a half cup at a time, stirring to fully incorporate each new addition. Once all the shredded cheese has been added, and you have a smooth creamy sauce, reduce the heat to low.

Prepare the pepperonis: in a large skillet (you can work in batches if necessary, too), heat two tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Lay the pepperoni in a single layer. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon oil over the pepperoni, then sprinkle on the cayenne, salt, ground black pepper and granulated garlic. Cook until the pepperoni begins to crisp (3-4 minutes) then flip and cook until crisp on the second side, too (another 3 minutes or so). Place the pepperoni on a layer of paper towels to drain any excess oil.

Bring a large pot of well salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, until the noodles are just past al dente. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse. Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles, then stir to make sure every inch of pasta has been covered with sauce. Stir in a third of the pepperonis.

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Pour half of the macaroni mixture into the prepared baking dish. Layer on half of the marinara sauce, followed by half of the fresh mozzarella pieces, half of the parmesan, half of the basil and half of the remaining pepperoni. Add the remaining macaroni mixture, followed by another layer of sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, basil and pepperoni. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until slightly golden brown on top. Allow the mac and cheese to cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

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