Mediterranean-Style Mac & Cheese
The idea here is to take all the goodness of classic mac and cheese and ramp it up a bit. I introduced some Mediterranean-style flavors, including a delicious young Asiago (instead of the classic cheddar) and pieces of spicy sausage. You can easily double this recipe to a full pound of pasta to serve a crowd.
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SAUSAGE AND PASTA
- 3 spicy Italian-style sausages (about 10 ounces total)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ pound whole-wheat macaroni or your favorite small-shaped pasta
HERBED CHEESE SAUCE
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2½ tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk (low fat or whole)
- 1 cup heavy cream (or milk, if lighter version is preferred)
- 1½ tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 1½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 2½ tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup finely chopped scallions (white and green parts)
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes
- 1 cup grated young Asiago cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- SAUSAGE AND PASTA: Place the sausage and 1 cup of water in a medium skillet over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 9 to 10 minutes, or until the water evaporates. When the skillet is dry, reduce the heat to low and add the olive oil. Cook the sausage, turning it from side to side, for 5 minutes, or until nicely browned. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly. Cut the sausage into ½-inch pieces and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
- HERBED CHEESE SAUCE: In a medium saucepan, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour, and using a whisk, stir to create a paste. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the milk and cream bit by bit, whisking between each addition. Let the sauce cook and thicken, about 5 minutes. Add half the basil, rosemary, parsley, and scallions and all the sun-dried tomatoes. When the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove from the heat and whisk in half the cheese. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as needed.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a medium-size casserole, mix the pasta with the cheese sauce, making sure the pasta is thoroughly coated. Add almost all the sausage, and stir to make sure it is well incorporated into the pasta and the sauce. Stud the top of the dish with the remaining sausage pieces, and sprinkle the remaining cheese and herbs on top.
- Bake on the middle shelf for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is hot and bubbling and the cheese on top is thoroughly melted.
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