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Diane Rossen Worthington
Three Cheese Macaroni with Caramelized Leeks, Prosciutto and Peas
Mac and cheese might just be the most comforting comfort food ever devised. It has all the attributes of feel-good food: cheesy, creamy and familiar. And it never seems to go out of style.
Many restaurants are making upscale versions adding lobster, truffles or other exotic ingredients. At a new restaurant in downtown Los Angeles called Mac and Cheeza, diners can add sausage, tomatoes, olives or nuts to their dish. And for those who don't eat dairy, the restaurant will whip up mac and soy cheese.
Mac and Cheeza would do well to add the following recipe to their repertoire. Combining cheddar cheese with peppery Monterey Jack cheese and a touch of Parmesan elevates this mac and cheese into a sophisticated dish -- a far cry from the "blue box" variety! Since I often make pasta with pesto, peas and prosciutto, I added those ingredients as well. The caramelized leeks are the secret ingredient that elevates the dish to a new level, along with the crispy cheese and breadcrumb topping.
I have served this at parties to rave reviews. This is a perfect one-dish meal along with a mixed green salad. To make this a vegetarian dish, just remove the prosciutto.
This may be made up to two days ahead, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before reheating in a 350 F oven for 20 minutes. You may need to cover with foil so it does not burn.
Use Italian penne or fusilli instead of elbow macaroni.
Substitute blue cheese for the Pepper Jack cheese.
Substitute mortadella or speck for the prosciutto
Three Cheese Macaroni with Caramelized Leeks, Prosciutto & Peas
Butter for pan
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 leeks, light green and white part only, cleaned and finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
3 cups dried macaroni (about 3/4 pound large elbow macaroni)
1 cup frozen petit pois
1 /4 pound sliced prosciutto, finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose
3 cups milk or half and half, warmed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 cups shredded Pepper Jack cheese
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs (Japanese Panko crumbs are my preference)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan or a 9- by 11-inch baking pan or glass Pyrex.
2. Heat oil in large nonaluminum skillet on medium-high heat. Add the leeks and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes or until well softened and nicely caramelized. Add salt, and pepper and taste for seasoning. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Reserve.
3. Bring a large saucepan of water to a rapid boil and add the salt. Add the macaroni and stir to separate, then cook for 5-7 minutes, until slightly soft to the bite, or according to package directions, stirring occasionally. Drain and place in bowl with leeks and toss. Add the prosciutto and frozen peas and toss. Reserve.
4. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the remaining butter. Sprinkle the flour over the butter and whisk to mix well. Cook, stirring all the time, for about 2 minutes or until the flour is well absorbed and the mixture is gently bubbling and golden. Add the warm milk gradually, continuing to stir all the time, and bring the sauce to a simmer on medium heat. Continue to cook until the white sauce is smooth and slightly thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Add all the cheeses. Remove from the heat and whisk constantly until the cheese is completely melted. Stir in the salt, pepper and mustard. Taste for seasoning. Pour over the macaroni leek mixture and mix to evenly combine and coat the macaroni.
5. Place the greased baking dish on a baking sheet. Transfer the macaroni mixture to the dish. For the topping: In a small bowl combine the cheese with the breadcrumbs and mix to evenly combine. Sprinkle on top of the macaroni in an even layer. Dot with the butter and bake uncovered, for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is bubbling, beginning to form a crust and golden brown. Be very careful not to let the crumbs burn. Let the dish stand for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks (click here), including "Seriously Simple Holidays: Recipes and Ideas to Celebrate the Season," and also a James Beard award-winning radio show host.
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Sophisticated Mac and Cheese Recipe - Diane Rossen Worthington Recipes
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