In addition to baking Nick’s pie last weekend, I also made him a birthday dinner. When I was planning the menu, I had a few criteria: it must be indulgent, require enough effort to make it special, but not so much effort that I go insane, and it must include red meat. Filet mignon was an easy choice. (I’ll most likely be posting that recipe in the next few days….) Some sort of potato dish seemed like an obvious accompaniment, but then it occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity to try out one of the twenty or so mac and cheese recipes I’ve been lusting after for quite some time. There were about three top contenders, but I settled on using Bon Appetit’s Double-Dutch Mac and Cheese with Chard as a starting point.
I’ve never actually made macaroni and cheese that didn’t come out of a Kraft or Annie’s box before, so I didn’t experiment with the recipe too much other than swapping out some ingredients. For the record, I did consider adding some bacon (this was for Nick’s birthday, after all) but after baking a pie and anticipating preparations for the rest of dinner, I couldn’t motivate myself to fry bacon and clean up a bacon-y mess before starting the next round of cooking. Trust me, this recipe absolutely does not need bacon. It’s delicious and rich on its own. But bacon would probably be a pretty awesome addition.
I resorted to using mini penne pasta when the grocery store I went to did not have macaroni (except for the kind that comes with a packet of powdered cheese sauce). I’m curious to try macaroni in the future but the penne worked well, as they still had a hollow opening to fill with cheesy deliciousness, and they were closer to the size and texture of elbow macaroni than other tube pastas. And I used shallots rather than garlic because I seem to have developed some sort of shallot addiction.
Cheeses… I referred to this as having two cheeses, but in a way that’s a lie, because one of the cheeses I used was actually a high-tech hybrid of Cheddar and Gruyere. The other was an aged Gouda. The combination was great, but don’t stress out about tracking down the exact same kinds. Cheese is awesome. Period. I’m pretty sure whatever pairing you select, whether it’s based on your taste buds or what’s available, will be lovely. Just stay away from anything too soft, since the cheese needs to be grated and melted.
My version of the recipe is halved from the original. It yielded the perfect amount for the two of us to overeat at dinner and still enjoy leftovers the next day.
Two-Cheese Baked Penne with Chard (serves 5-6, adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2009)
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups reduced fat milk
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated aged Gouda plus 1/4 cup finely grated (about 5-6 ounces, total)
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated Cheddar, Edam, or another cheese you like, divided
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
dash of ground nutmeg
3/4 pounds Swiss chard, stems and center ribs removed
6 ounces penne pasta (miniature, if possible)
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless sourdough bread*
*If you’re clueless about making breadcrumbs, like I was, you can find help from Bon Appetit here.
Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add onion, saute until translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in shallots and then flour; stir constantly for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk and cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture begins to boil, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup coarsely grated Gouda and 1/2 cup grated Cheddar (or other cheese). Stir until cheeses melt, about 2 minutes. Stir in cayenne and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. While you are waiting for it to boil, preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter an 8 x 8-inch glass baking dish. Once the water has come to a boil, cook chard until tender, about 1 minute. Remove chard from water with a slotted spoon, transfer to plate or colander, and cool. Reserve pot with water. Squeeze water from chard and chop finely.
Bring water back to a boil. Cook penne until tender, but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta and stir into cheese sauce. Place half of pasta and cheese mixture to baking dish and spread evenly. Top with remaining 1/2 cup grated Cheddar, and then with chopped chard. Top with remaining pasta and spread evenly.
Melt remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter. Mix with breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup finely grated Gouda. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over pasta.
Bake penne and cheese until breadcrumbs are golden and the edges are bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.