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Cook it light: Cook it light: Gourmet cheese and macaroni sans the calories and fat

Dear Jeanne: This recipe looks so good — like a "gourmet" macaroni and cheese — but I haven't tried it because of all the fat. Is there any way to keep all the flavor while removing at least some of the fat? — Marsha G., Sarasota, Fla.

Dear Marsha: This does look like it would be delicious. I didn't make it, either — 78 grams of fat? Even a bite would be too much! I did, however, make a dish that is really delicious using many of the same ingredients. No one ever would think this was "diet food."

Adding the herbs and very strong cheeses means you can make a macaroni and cheese without having to use huge amounts of cheese. You can use whatever shape of pasta you prefer — I used penne, as it is readily available in whole wheat. Serve with a green salad.

Five-cheese Macaroni and Cheese

4 ounces bacon, diced

1 onion, diced

6 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 1/2 cups milk

2 cups heavy cream

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups fontina cheese, grated

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

3/4 cup Gruyere cheese, grated

3/4 cup cheddar cheese

3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped

16 ounces macaroni, cooked

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Cook the bacon until crisp; remove and set aside. Saute the onion in the bacon fat until soft. Add the butter, and stir in the flour. Stir in the mustard, then whisk in the milk and cream, stirring constantly. Add the thyme, bay leaf and salt. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes. Strain the milk mixture into a metal bowl and discard the solids. Stir in 1 cup of the fontina, the blue cheese, 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, 1/2 cup of the cheddar, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, the bacon and the parsley. Stir until melted. Combine the cheese sauce and the cooked pasta. Place in a buttered 9-by-13-inch pan, mix the remaining cheeses and breadcrumbs together and sprinkle on top of the noodles. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Reduced-fat Gourmet Macaroni and Cheese

12 ounces whole-wheat pasta (elbows, penne, etc.)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 slices turkey bacon, diced

1 onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, pressed or minced

3 1/2 cups low-fat (1 percent) milk

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3/4 cup grated fontina cheese

1/2 cup grated reduced-fat Swiss cheese

1/2 cup grated reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese

1?3 cup blue cheese, crumbled

3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, divided use

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente (resistant to the bite). Drain thoroughly, add the olive oil and mix until all of the pasta is coated with the oil. Set aside.

2. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

3. Cook the diced bacon in a large nonstick skillet. Remove from the pan when crisp, then add the diced onion. Cook over medium heat until softened, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently and adding water if needed to prevent scorching. Add the garlic and cook another minute.

5. Add 3 cups of the milk, reserving 1/2 cup for dissolving the cornstarch. Add the thyme, bay leaf and mustard, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and thyme stems. At this point, you may remove the onion solids by straining, or blend with an immersion blender or place in a blender to puree the onions.

6. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining 1/2 cup cold milk, then stir into the hot milk mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

7. Combine the fontina, Swiss, cheddar and blue cheeses, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan with the breadcrumbs. Set aside.

8. Remove the thickened milk from the heat, and mix in the cheese mixture until melted; stir in the parsley and bacon. Combine the macaroni and sauce, and place in the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains approximately: Original Recipe: 1,182 calories; 78 gm fat; 246 mg cholesterol; 1,421 mg sodium; 74 gm carbohydrates; 43 gm protein; 3 gm fiber. Revised Recipe: 462 calories; 14 gm fat; 41 mg cholesterol; 647 mg sodium; 59 gm carbohydrates; 29 gm protein; 6 gm fiber.

Jeanne Jones is the author of 33 cookbooks, most recently "Cooking From the Cupboard" (Rodale Press). For more information, you can go to her Web site, Send your recipe for revision to: Cook It Light, Deseret News, P.O. Box 1212, La Jolla, CA 92038. Please include a stamped (61 cents), self-addressed envelope. © King Features Syndicate Inc.