“Wow, this looks yummy!”
Tyler and I are thumbing through the April edition of Everyday Food Magazine, packed with all kinds of fantastic, easy and quick recipes. He stops on the Spinach Macaroni and Cheese recipe and asks if I’ll put it together for him. Of course I would!
Regardless of how advanced your palate is, if you grew up in America, you understand our love affair with macaroni and cheese. We start with the blue box, the funny shaped elbow noodles cooked to a rubbery consistency then mixed with a gritty orange powder (and we loved it!) Most of us, however, graduate from that, moving towards baked casserole versions topped with crisp bread crumbs and made with real cheese.
My preference is the stove top version, one that starts with a roux and ends with a fondue-like cheese sauce. I love using a blend of sharp English cheddar as well as Gruyere cheeses, as they melt nicely and compliment the pasta with a richness that only real cheese can provide. Grate your cheese at home, as the pre-grated cheeses do not melt as nicely.
In terms of pasta, most people use traditional elbow macaroni, but I like penne rigate, cooked al dente, so I have plenty to bite into.
Finally, my adult tastebuds long for an additional layer in macaroni and cheese — a layer of fresh vegetables. I have used spinach, tomatoes, butternut squash and even chile peppers with plenty of success. Onions are a must, as the sweetness they bring enhances the roux. I recommend using yellow onions.
Since the best recipes always seem to encourage your own personal twist, I suggest you try the Everyday version then give my rendition a go or twist it your own way. Tyler used corkscrew pasta and garlic in his, and I used a mixture of cheeses and a pinch of nutmeg. Eat up and enjoy!
Spinach Macaroni and Cheese (my way)
1 pound penne rigate pasta (cooked al dente in salted water)
4 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups milk (I use 2% but Tyler recommends Whole Milk)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/4 cups grated Gruyere
1 1/4 cups grated English Cheddar
2 cups fresh spinach leaves
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a large heavy pot or dutch-oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and allow to sweat gently, without browning. Stir often with a wooden spoon, about 3-5 minutes, until onions are tender and clear.
Coat the onions with the flour and stir. Using a whisk, slowly add the milk, just a few tablespoons at a time. Continue adding and whisking until all the milk is used and a nice thick roux has formed. Switch back to the wooden spoon, as the roux should cover the back of the spoon nicely. Stir in the cheeses until melted, and add the nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Add the pasta and spinach until well combined. Serve immediately. Then tweet a pic to me and let me know how you fared!