Friday, January 4, 2008

Grown Up Mac 'n Cheese

I have been known to drive almost an hour to Ann Arbor just to have the Smoked Chicken Macaroni and Cheese at Zingerman's Roadhouse. It probably is a good thing that the restaurant in not located closer!

I've played around with making my own version of this dish. And please don't let my doctor (who wants my cholesterol level to go down) know that I have been making it! I did use lighter cheese when I made the latest batch. And although it sounds rich, it really isn't overwhelmingly cheesey. I usually eat a couple of meals of it, and then freeze the rest in those little plastic containers, which seems to work fine and lets me pull out a serving when I need a touch of comfort food!

This is one of those recipes that is easy to play with. I've made it with seafood and with proscuitto instead of the chicken. I've used different cheese combinations and left out various veggies. So give it a try with whatever you have leftover in the fridge.

Grown Up Mac 'n Cheese
  • 1 pound macaroni style pasta (I used Martelli penne which is an excellent but pricey imported pasta, but any kind should work)
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water. Leave the pasta slightly undercooked (or it will get mushy when you bake it). Save a cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and set aside.

While the pasta is boiling, combine the following in a large bowl:
  • 8 ounce container of mascarpone cheese or creme fraiche
  • 3 cups cheese (I used 1 1/2 cups Cabots 75% reduced fat cheddar cheese and 1 1/2 cups lite cheese blend - both from Trader Joes.)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (adjust to your preference, but a little adds a great kick!)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Add the pasta into the cheese mixture and combine. Then mix in:
  • 2 to 3 cups chopped cooked chicken breast (I buy the grilled chicken strips from Trader Joes to make this easy)
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 2 ears fresh corn - slice the corn off the ears and use raw (trust me, this adds a sweet crunch!)
  • 3 ounces of sun dried tomatoes, chopped
If the mixture seems dry, add a little of the saved pasta water. You could even add more cheese or cream if you want a cheesier creamier sauce.

Spray a large lasagna pan with non-stick spray. Fill the pan with the pasta and cover with foil. Bake in a 350 F oven for 30 minutes until heated through. Remove from the oven and then top with a mixture of:
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup cheese
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
Return to the oven for about 10 more minutes until the bread crumbs are slightly browned. Remove from the oven and let set for about 5 minutes before serving.


Laura Rainbow Dragon said...

There was never an age at which I could stomach those macaroni and fake "cheese" dinners that are so popular (Even when I was a starving artist and people were donating food to me because I otherwise couldn't afford to feed myself adequately, when I was given boxes of KD I threw out the "cheese" packets and just ate the noodles!) but my, your version sounds good! (I probably shouldn't be eating food like this too often either, but you have certainly tempted me!)

I don't think I've used mascarpone other than as a dessert cheese (tiramisu is very fine!). Have you tried this dish with other soft cheeses? (I've become quite partial to the tang of chevre lately, myself.)

Clever Karen said...

I did try this with chevre once and I wasn't happy with the result. The tanginess of the cheese just didn't work and the texture was off. I kept trying to add ingredients to make it better, and nothing seemed right. I'd love a good recipe that does use goat cheese because I do like goat cheese.

Laura Rainbow Dragon said...

Here's my shot at a macaroni and cheese creation using chèvre.

I quite liked the result, as have all of the people I have fed it to so far -- including my mother who is a picky eater!

Clever Karen said...

Wow, Laura, that's cool that this recipe inspired you to try your own version! I took a look and it does look wonderful! I will let you know when I have a chance to give it a try. Thanks for telling me about it!


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