Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cheesy Baked Pasta


Usually when I make macaroni and cheese, which isn’t very often, I don’t really follow a recipe. I don’t even write down what I did, which makes reproducing something that turned out especially well nearly impossible. Well, this time, I began with a real recipe for something that’s basically a kicked-up mac and cheese and when I deviated from it, I actually wrote down what I did. Maybe this blog is good for me after all.


This cheesy baked pasta dish is loaded with leeks for lots of flavor, but also deviates from simpler macaroni and cheese recipes by adding an egg to the sauce. The result is a richer sauce that begins to feel a sort of like a custard with lots of pasta embedded in it. I also decided to take the onion theme a little further by adding some scallions, and my love of sour cream and onion potato chips (which I almost never actually allow myself to eat) inspired me to stir some sour cream into the sauce mixture as well.



While leeks bring dishes a nice, delicate onion flavor with just a hint of something reminiscent of garlic, they can also bring a lot of dirt, which is really not cool. Since the sandy grit can get way down into the layers of the leeks, I like to rinse off the obvious dirt on the outside, then slice the leeks and dunk the slices in a big water bath. This method is kind of like washing spinach or salad greens and if you swish the leek slices around and gently rub them together the sand will be washed away and settle out while the leeks float. I then just gather them up and drain them. The process is a bit of work, but, of course, gritty food is unacceptable.



This baked pasta dish is rich and cheesy, but also pleasantly tangy from both the sharp cheddar and the sour cream. The onions, both the leeks and the scallions, aren’t overpowering, but they do add a lot of flavor. You could make this an even richer dish by using whole milk (I used 2%). Of course you could make this into anything you want just by remembering that it is a modified mac and cheese, but the slight custardy nature of the sauce made me think I might be able to use these flavors in a soufflĂ©. Well, even though I pared down the size of the original recipe, I’ve still got some leftovers to contemplate before I move off in other directions. Lovely, rich, sour-cream-and-onion-y, delicious leftovers.




Cheesy Baked Pasta with Sour Cream and Onion
Based on a recipe from Bon Appetit, March 2009

You can boil the water and cook the pasta while preparing the sauce.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups thinly sliced leek, white and light green parts, well washed (about 2 medium leeks)
½ cup chopped scallions
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk (I used 2%)
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (about 2 cups, packed)
1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 egg
½ cup sour cream (I used reduced-fat)
8 ounces short pasta (I used penne rigate)

1. Prepare a shallow 2-quart baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray or lightly greasing with butter. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and stir to coat with the melted butter. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat about 10 minutes or until the leeks are tender. Stir occasionally. Do not allow the leeks to brown.

3. When the leeks are tender, stir in the scallions, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the flour and cook, stirring frequently, about 1 minute.

4. Stir in the milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Add the cheese and mustard and stir until the cheese has melted. Remove from the heat. Taste the cheese sauce and add salt or other seasonings if desired. (I did not add any salt to my sauce.)

5. In a medium bowl, combine the egg and sour cream. Whisk together until smooth. Remove about ½ cup of the cheese mixture and whisk it into the egg mixture until smooth. Pour the egg mixture back into the remaining cheese mixture and stir until smooth.

6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is a little more firm than you like to eat it. (The pasta will soften more as it bakes with the sauce.) Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.

7. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir until well coated. Pour or spoon the pasta and sauce into the prepared baking dish. The sauce may seem loose and runny, but it will firm up upon baking.

8. Bake the pasta mixture at 400 F for about 30 minutes, or until the sauce is set and the top is gently browned. Remove from the oven and let stand about 10 minutes.

Makes about 4 large or 6 smaller servings.


Other recipes like this one: Broccoli Cheese Casserole with Mustard Rye Croutons, Chicken and Vegetable Tetrazzini, Spaghetti Squash Casserole with Bacon and Cheddar

Two years ago: Spaghetti Pie

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