A certain roommate of mine has been going around trumpeting the fact that “he doesn’t like mac and cheese because it’s bland” or some other sob story.
Au contraire roommate! Mac and cheese from a box is, in fact, bland and terrible, but if you mix actual cheese and pretty much any pasta you can make a good dish. Bake that dish with some bread crumbs on top and you have my lunches for this week. I kept the title of this post simple because while I used penne pasta and a mixture of sharp cheddar and parmesan cheeses, you don’t have to. This dish was proving a point. The veggies are also flexible, and I think that you know what vegetables you like and you can probably sub those in however you prefer. I also used whole wheat pasta because I’m a hippie like that, but you can obviously change that too.
Baked Penne with Cheddar and Parmesan
(makes about 6 servings)
1 lb. dry whole wheat penne
2 cups cheddar, shredded
1 1/2 cups parmesan, shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup half and half
4 cups broccoli florets, cut into bite size pieces
2 cups onions, diced
2 cups mushrooms, diced
3 cups kale, chopped
1 tablespoon paprika (preferably smoked and sweet, like this stuff)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs (homemade crumbs are best)
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400. Boil the pasta in salted water, and cook until very al dente (not quite cooked - you’re going to bake it). Put the pasta in a large mixing bowl. Save the pasta cooking water if possible.
If you can save the pasta water, bring it back to a boil and blanche the kale for about 3 minutes in the water. It’s ok if it’s new water, just salt it a bit. Add the cooked kale the mixing bowl with the pasta.
Start cooking the broccoli with half the garlic in a large saucepan with a lid over medium heat with enough olive oil so that it doesn’t get dry. Add a couple tablespoons (pasta) water to get steam, then cover. After about 2 minutes of solid sizzling, add mushrooms and onions along with some salt and pepper. Cook for about three minutes covered, and another one or two uncovered. Add the veggies to the mixing bowl with the pasta and kale.
To make the sauce, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat and add the remaining garlic. After about 1 minute, start adding the cheeses and half-and-half in small proportions and stirring until they are all incorporated. Keep the heat low enough so the mixture does not get above a light simmer. Add olive oil as needed to thin the sauce until you have incorporated all the cheese and half-and-half and you have a thick sauce slightly lighter than the nacho cheese sauce you get at the movies (yes I really said that on a food blog).
Add the paprika and cayenne to sauce along with salt and pepper to taste, then add the sauce to the mixing bowl with everything else. Stir it real nice, then put it in a baking device that will hold it all, and top with a little more cheese and the bread crumbs. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the crumbs and put it in the oven.
Bake for ~30 minutes and you’re done. This really looks more difficult typed out than it really is.