macaroni and cheese with spring vegetables and béchamel sauce

Macaroni and cheese is a classic comfort food dish. It is warm and creamy and extra delicious when there is a crispy top after coming out of the oven. This variation on traditional macaroni and cheese includes several spring vegetables - leeks, green peas, and asparagus. However the cooking techniques are very traditional. The sauce starts with a roux of butter, flour, and milk, and the dish is finished in the oven with breadcrumbs. I would recommend serving this with a side salad to cut the richness of the entree. You could also fold in pieces of chicken or sausage to boost the protein content. 

 

  • Dried pasta (1 pound, or 4-5 cups uncooked, and in your shape of choice - penne, elbows, orecchiette)

  • Olive oil (1 tablespoon)

  • Pancetta (3/4 cup, finely diced)

  • Leeks (2 full stalks, sliced thinly including green and white parts)

  • Butter (6 tablespoons)

  • All-purpose flour (6 tablespoons)

  • Dijon mustard (1 teaspoon)

  • Milk (3 cups, warmed slightly)

  • White cheddar cheese (1 and 1/2 cups, shredded)

  • Salt (1 and 1/2 teaspoons)

  • Ground black pepper (1 teaspoon)

  • Green peas (1 cup; fresh or thawed if purchased frozen)

  • Asparagus (1 large bunch, cut into 3/4-inch pieces)

  • Panko breadcrumbs (1/2 cup)

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Rub a large casserole dish with butter or spray with non-stick cooking spray.

  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare the dried pasta per the instructions on the package. Drain and set aside. Drizzle with olive oil to prevent from sticking while you are preparing the other ingredients.

  4. In a large Dutch Oven or pot (large enough to ultimately mix all the ingredients with the sauce), heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

  5. Add the pancetta and saute until slightly crispy and fragrant. Remove the pancetta pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside.

  6. In the same Dutch Oven, saute sliced leeks and butter until the leeks are softened. You should use the wooden spoon to scrape off any pancetta bits from the bottom (these will add extra depth of flavor to the sauce base).

  7. Add the flour and mustard and blend to form the roux (base of the sauce).

  8. Slowly add the warm milk to the roux and stir until flour is cooked off and the sauce becomes creamy (5 to 8 minutes).

  9. While pasta and sauce are cooking, lightly steam the asparagus pieces and blanche quickly in cold water after cooking to ensure they retain bright green color. Set aside.

  10. To the pot of creamy sauce, add the shredded cheese, salt, and pepper and cook on low until the cheese has melted completely (2 to 3 minutes). Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed.

  11. Once the sauce has finished cooking and pasta is drained, first add the peas to the sauce and cook for 2 to 3 minutes to ensure peas are cooked through.

  12. Next add pasta, pancetta, and cooked asparagus to the sauce. Mix until all ingredients are evenly coated in the sauce.

  13. Transfer pasta mixture to the buttered casserole dish and spread evenly into the dish. Top with breadcrumbs.

  14. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden on top and bubbly. Serve family style.

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