January 07, 2008

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese with Rapini

1 cup evaporated milk*
1 cup milk*
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 cup shredded asiago
1/4 cup panko
3 tablespoons grated parmesan
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bunch rapini, chopped and steamed**
1 lb small or medium sized pasta, cooked

For the béchamel: In a medium pan, melt the butter. Add the flour along with a sprinkle of nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir until smooth. Add the milk and evaporated milk and whisk together until slightly thickened. Whisk in the asiago and cheddar until smooth. Pour over the drained pasta. Add the rapini and stir to evenly distribute. Pour into lightly oiled baking dish. Top with a sprinkle of parmesan and panko. Bake covered about 15 minutes, then uncover and cook until hot and bubbly, about 10-15 additional minutes.

Yield: about 4 (meal sized) servings

*Having the milk at room temperature or slightly warm helps keep the butter from hardening when you make the sauce.
**A little trick: I steamed the rapini (AKA broccoli rabe) in a mesh basket over the pasta while it was boiling.

My thoughts:
What is it about winter that just cries out for mac & cheese? I don't normally go the whole creamy cheese sauce route but Matt had a craving so we went for it. Using evaporated milk gives the sauce a very creamy feeling but has a fraction of the fat in heavy cream. I'm always looking for ways to incorporate vegetables into things like macaroni and cheese, especially when it is serving as our entree. Rapini might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of macaroni and cheese but it worked well, rapini's strong flavor was tempered by the cheese and it kept the dish from being too one dimensional.