Mediterranean Macaroni and Cheese
If there’s one thing I can make and know my kids will eat without a problem its mac and cheese. To be perfectly honest I’ve never been a huge fan of the boxed stuff. Even as a kid it skeeved me out that powder could turn into cheese. Also once it becomes the tiniest bit cold it turns into a texture nightmare. Yuck.
While we do occasionally still indulge in an old fashioned (organic) box of mac and cheese I’ve recently had my eyes opened to the idea that mac and cheese can be so much more. You can add vegetables, change up the pasta shapes, and swap out the cheeses. Now things are getting delicious, and I might be sneaking vegetables into my kids mouths.
I’ve made baked macaroni and cheese, penne with tomato, feta, and basil, and spinach and artichoke mac and cheese. This Mediterranean mac and cheese takes it to a whole new flavor level. We’re talking total flavor bomb in your mouth. You didn’t even know this much flavor was possible.
I won’t fool you, this dish is a bit of work. But its totally worth it. This is what you’ll make when you want to impress. Out of town guests, in-laws, a new boyfriend perhaps. Its a flavor explosion of love. Its also kind of a gut buster. It doesn’t need to be, but once you find out how amazingly tasty it is its hard to stop eating it. I definitely ate more than my fair share of it but, again, totally worth it.
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon plus 3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 leek, white and light green part only, thinly sliced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 head garlic
16 ounces dry rigatoni
1 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon flour
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/4 cup Asiago cheese, shredded
12 ounces feta cheese (preferably a brick packed in brine, not pre-crumbled)
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Coat a 9 x 13 casserole dish with olive oil or cooking spray. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of olive oil over medium low heat until the butter melts. Add the onions and leeks and stir to coat in the butter mixture. Turn the heat to low and allow to cook for one hour, stirring every ten minutes, until golden brown in color. The vegetables should just barely sizzle as they cook. If they are browning too quickly lower the heat as much as possible and if they don't seem like they're cooking at all raise the heat by small increments until they begin to do so. Once they are done remove from the heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, cut the top quarter off the head of garlic. Drizzle the other teaspoon of olive oil over the top and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Place in the oven and allow it to roast for 30 minutes. Remove and allow it to cool before squeezing the garlic out of the papery peel.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the rigatoni according to the package's directions. Once done cooking, drain, drizzle with olive oil, and shake the colander to keep the noodles from sticking together.
In a small skillet, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the spinach and sauté until wilted. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to broil on high. Heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in a medium saucepan over medium low heat until melted. Whisk in flour until fully incorporated. Whisk in the milk and cream and continue to heat until hot but not boiling. Add the oregano and rosemary and mix well. Add 1 cup asiago and crumble in the feta cheese. Stir until the feta is just beginning to melt.
Remove the pan from the heat and combine the cheese mixture with the rigatoni, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, leeks, and roasted garlic in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with black pepper and remaining Asiago cheese. Place in the oven and broil until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove and serve.
Adapted from Adventures in Cooking