Archive | November, 2011

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Pancetta and Spinach

21 Nov

I’m having a love affair with macaroni and cheese.

It doesn’t matter what form it takes; I love every bite in any shape or form. Big, soft elbow noodles  in a puddle of crayon-yellow melted Velveeta. Fancy al dente spiral noodles in four cheese white sauce with lemon zest. Fat egg noodles coated in a thick, gluey cheddar. All delicious. One of my guilty pleasures (and one of the few processed products we purchase in our household) is a box of name brand instant macaroni and cheese, with a cupful of frozen peas thrown in for good measure — comfort food at it’s finest. As far as I’m concerned, there is no bad macaroni and cheese. Some preparations are just better than others.

My favorite version of homemade macaroni and cheese is one of the oldest recipes in my arsenal; it is outdone in age only by a meatloaf recipe that comes from the same place, the first cookbook I ever bought. To this day, the only cookbook I really need is the same Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that has graced a shelf or drawer in everyone’s grandmother’s kitchen. It’s on it’s fifteenth edition for a reason; not only does it break down the cooking basics you need to be capable in the kitchen, it’s pages are full of amazing base recipes that can be tweaked and refined to the reader’s content. Christmas cookies, quick breads, impressively easy appetizers and casseroles — it’s all there waiting to be personalized.

Like most things I make, my macaroni and cheese recipe has evolved over time as I make the minor adjustments needed to graduate a ’70s era potluck casserole into a nutritious and balanced meal that I can feel good about feeding to my family. So far this is the best version I have produced: luxurious with the savory background flavor of miniscule pieces of pancetta, a combination of sharp and mild cheeses, and a crispy crust that makes an audible crack when it breaks. I like to serve a hearty scoop garnished with stewed tomatoes and drizzled with a few tablespoons of their juice, alongside a simple salad of arugula and thinly sliced red onion dressed in salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. By no stretch of the imagination is this a low-fat meal, but using unprocessed ingredients and adding some fiber with whole grains and veggies cuts the damage.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces whole wheat elbow noodles
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk + 1/2 cup, separated
  • 4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded gruyere cheese
  • 1 package Trader Joe’s diced pancetta (4-6 ounces, I think)
  • 1 bag organic baby spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook noodles according to package directions in well-salted water. Drain and set aside (do not rinse).
  3. In a small skillet, cook pancetta over medium heat until lightly browned and crispy, approximately 5 minutes. Drain grease and set aside.
  4. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, cook until tender and fragrant, but not browned.
  5. Stir pepper and flour into garlic and onion. Mix well, and allow to cook for 1 minute to “cook off” taste of flour.
  6. Add 2 1/2 cups milk to saucepan all at once, whisk. Continue to cook, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens, 3-5 minutes.
  7. Add both shredded cheeses and continue stirring over medium heat until melted and combined. Sauce will be thick; you may need to add additional milk to achieve desired consistency.
  8. Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in pancetta and spinach. Add cooked elbow noodles, stirring until well-coated in cheese sauce.
  9. Pour contents of saucepan into a large casserole dish. Sprinkle top with breadcrumbs and bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until cheese sauce is bubbly and surface is browned and crispy.
Makes approximately 8 one-cup servings.

Stuffed Tomatoes

4 Nov

This week was our last disbursement from our CSA membership (*tears*). In addition to a lovely selection of storage-safe produce such as one dozen beautiful apples, two big butternut squash, and a plethora of leeks and sweet onions, we received what are probably the last decent tomatoes we’ll be tasting until next summer. Because of that distinction I felt they’d be better served dressed up a bit than simply sliced with salt and pepper.

Hence, I give you brown rice and parmesan stuffed tomatoes, accompanied by pan-fried chicken tenders and some delicious cucumber and feta Greek yogurt dipping sauce:

 

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Ingredients

  • 4 medium to large tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice
  • 1/4 frozen spinach
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
  • drizzle of olive oil

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. On stovetop, bring chicken stock to a boil; add rice, cover and reduce to simmer (I like to undercook the rice slightly — the tomatoes’ interior is so moist it will finish fluffing the rice in the oven). Halfway through rice’s cooking time, add frozen spinach and stir. Cover and return to simmer.
  3. Meanwhile, core tomatoes with a paring knife, removing tops. Using a spoon, carefully hollow out each tomato, being careful not to puncture the thick exterior walls. Discard seeds and pulp.
  4. When rice has finished cooking, add minced garlic, grated parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
  5. Drizzle olive oil around base of a shallow casserole dish. Carefully stuff tomatoes with rice mixture, mounding gently on top. Don’t overstuff — the rice will continue to expand in the oven. Place tomatoes in casserole dish and drizzle tops with olive oil.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until tomato skins appear slightly wilted and filling is warmed through.
Makes four tomatoes, which at our house serves two.