Thursday, February 23, 2012

Irish Mac and Cheese

This is for Molly, who ate this at my house with her children and her sister. Molly's daughter Hallie, who wasn't quite one at the time, couldn't get enough of it. Everyone was spellbound watching her eat it. But really, it's for anyone else who wants it. I hope that means you'll make it, too, and tell me how you liked it.

This recipe didn't start out with such a goofy name, but last year I made this in March with Irish Dubliner cheddar and put it in this nice stoneware I got from King Arthur Flour with little Celtic designs on it and well, it's green, it's Irish, and it's cheesy. The name just kind of writes itself, ya know?

It all started, though, as Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese from Cooking Light. I used to have a subscription to that magazine until a couple years ago when they noticeably started dumbing down the copy--or either that I just overnight, by leaps and bounds, became a much better cook and outgrew the magazine. (Not likely. Magazine redesigns always make me upset, as inevitable as I know they are, having worked in them.) The funny thing is that this recipe has morphed so much that when my husband went to make it for me when I was very pregnant, how I'd been making it was totally different from what was on the recipe card (yeah, I use those. Sometimes. But I digress!). He asked me, "do we have everything for this?" And I said, "Yes, of course." He said, "I can't find the Gouda. We have no green onions." It became a comedy of errors. And he knows his way around the kitchen, so it's not about that, either. Nevertheless, I'd like to set the record straight.

1 slice of whole wheat bread
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup chopped onions (original recipe and this photo's version have 1/4 cup or so of chopped green onions)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk (yeah, this is no longer a Cooking Light recipe!)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp of black pepper
2 ounces (1/2 cup) shredded Irish cheddar or other nutty-sweet-sharp cheddar
1 1/2 ounces (1/3 cup) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
5 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach
4 cups hot cooked elbow macaroni (about 2 cups uncooked)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Place bread in food processor and blitz until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup.
  3. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the flour and cook for another minute, stirring constantly.
  4. Gradually add the milk, salt, pepper; stir constantly with a whisk until blended. Bring it to a boil and cook until thick (about 2-3 minutes).
  5. Add the cheeses and stir until melted.
  6. Add the spinach and macaroni to the cheese sauce and stir it until well blended. Spoon the mixture into a 2-quart baking dish coated with butter or cooking spray. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
  7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned and bubbly. 
It's easy to do some of these steps ahead of time. Make the pasta and drain it well. Run cold water over it, and add a bit of olive oil, which will help keep the pasta from sticking together. Cover it and put it in the fridge until you're ready to use it. Ditto the spinach; you can chop and store it ahead of time. I sometimes make it with frozen spinach; typically, I do this in the winter. In the summer I use chard or spinach or whatever the CSA is yielding. I'm guessing that kale would work, too, for those of you who can't get enough of it. If you go the frozen route, however, you will need to squeeze every ounce of water out of the spinach until it's not emitting any more liquid.

This recipe doubles really easily and freezes well.

I have also used this with a slightly sweet Asiago cheese (Trugole, for the cheeseheads out there), with good results. Anything that melts well without getting too gritty or grainy will do the trick. Sometimes, I've swapped out the pasta for cavatappi, that crazy corkscrew pasta.

You may notice the green tint to the breadcrumbs. Here's what this one looked like before it went into the oven.

 I do believe I made these bread crumbs with some leftover parsley I had. (I keep breadcrumbs in the freezer and pull them out as needed.) You don't have to use a green pan, but if you have one, go for it. I won't make a stupid joke about how everyone is Irish when they eat this.  Nonsense. The name is admittedly a gimmick. It got your attention, didn't it?

While I'm at it, everyone is NOT Irish on St. Patty's day.


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