Thursday, April 07, 2005

Spring Macaroni & Cheese Recipe


The weather can't seem to decide what it wants to do, in turn making it hard to decide what to eat: something comforting and cheesy or something fresher and green? I decided the only solution was to combine the two.

One of the great American dishes has got to be macaroni and cheese. Gooey, cheesy and rich with a slight crunch on the top it is pure goodness in a casserole dish. The one problem I have with macaroni and cheese is the guilt. It's soooo rich, it's not the healthiest dish in the world.

One way to make a dish healthier is to cut back on the rich ingredients, like the milk, butter and cheese. Well, that's no fun! I'd rather add in some heathy but tasty stuff as a compromise that really doesn't feel like a compromise at all. My healthy additions are some peas and artichoke hearts, both tasty Spring arrivals. They both go particularly well with gruyere cheese. And gruyere is a perfect cheese for macaroni and cheese.

The topping for this dish is a Japanese type of bread crumb that you find on pork tonkatsu and other Japanese fried dishes. It crisps up like a dream. Use it for a topping when you want crunch on almost any gratin style dish.

Ok, I wish I could say I used the freshest Spring vegetables straight from the farmer's market, but I didn't. I used frozen peas and canned artichoke hearts. Are fresh ones better? Sure, but frozen peas are one of the few vegetables I don't mind using. Canned artichokes have a way of dressing up a dish and are so much less bother than fresh. I love the baby artichokes you can buy this time of year, but canned ones are just fine in this dish.

Spring Macaroni & Cheese
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1/2 lb macaroni or mini penne
1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
3 Tablespoon butter
3 Tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cup milk
salt to taste
pinch nutmeg
pinch cayenne
8 1/2 oz canned or frozen artichoke, quartered
1 cup frozen petite peas (with or without pearl onions), defrosted
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs

Instructions

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the macaroni according instructions, but subtract 1-2 minutes from the cooking time. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish or two smaller dishes; set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, whisking over low heat, 2 minutes.

Continue whisking and slowly pour in milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, cayenne and parmesan cheese. In a large bowl mix the macaroni, the cheese sauce and add the rest of the cheeses, peas and artichokes.

Pour mixture into prepared dish (or into two dishes if you prefer). Sprinkle Panko bread crumbs over top. Bake until browned on top, about 20 minutes or until golden brown on top. Transfer to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes; serve hot.

Enjoy!