Sunday, February 03, 2013

Asiago Mac & Cheese with Braised Leeks

I apologize for this awful was a last-ditch effort to quickly snap a photo before we dug into this beast of a mac & cheese dish.  I wish I could make all my meals during the day so that I would have great light to work with and plenty of time to snap photos before we eat...but alas, most nights I don't get dinner on the table until 9 pm! :(  Despite the lack of a pretty photo, this mac & cheese was delicious and it totally hit the spot on a cold winter evening - talk about comfort food!! I love leeks so they were a perfect addition to the traditional mac & cheese.  The fresh Wisconsin Asiago gave it a smooth texture with a hint of nutty flavor & sweetness (thanks to our friends Deb & Joe for introducing us to the great cheese shop where I snagged the Asiago!)

Asiago Mac & Cheese with Braised Leeks
Serves 8

For the leeks
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks – 2” of tops and roots trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, thoroughly washed and cut in 1/4” slices
4 large garlic cloves – skinned and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup white wine
¼ cup marsala wine

For the béchamel
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
4 cups almond milk – warmed (or regular milk)
2 cups heavy cream
freshly ground nutmeg to taste (use microplane grater)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 oz. Wisconsin Asiago – coarsely grated (2 cups)

For the bread crumbs
1/3 cup bread crumbs (you can crumble about ½ piece of bread if you don’t have bread crumbs)
1/2 cup finely grated Wisconsin Parmesan
1 tablespoon olive oil

For the pasta
1 tablespoon sea salt (for the pasta water)
1 lb. macaroni

1 large (15″ x 10″) ceramic or glass baking dish – buttered

Step 1: To braise the leeks – Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and leeks. Toss well and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes until leeks have wilted and just begin to take on a golden color, tossing from time to time. Add the garlic, chili pepper flakes, salt, black pepper and wine. Quickly toss, reduce heat to medium-low and cover pan. Braise leeks for 25 minutes until very tender and all the juices have evaporated. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

Step 2: To make the béchamel – Place the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as the butter is melted, whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture becomes foamy and the flour becomes golden, but not brown. Quickly whisk in the warm milk and cream. While constantly whisking, bring back to a boil. As soon as it reaches boiling point, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes until the béchamel has slightly thickened, still whisking constantly. Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and grated cheese. Whisk until the cheese has melted and remove from heat.

Step 3: Place the breadcrumbs and parmesan in a small bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well. Set aside.

Pre-heat oven to 375°F.

Step 4: Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the salt and the pasta. Cook the pasta about 2 minutes less than the package instructions so that it’s not cooked all the way through. Drain well and transfer to the large bowl with the leeks.  Mix the leeks and béchamel with the pasta and stir until well blended. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until bubbly on the sides and golden. Remove from oven and heat the broiler on high. Place the mac & cheese under the broiler for a few seconds to brown the breadcrumbs. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from food & style

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