Let's face it, macaroni and cheese is one of the all time, ultimate comfort foods and this applies for any age group. It doesn't matter whether you are 1 or 100 hundred, I don't think there is a person out there that doesn't love macaroni and cheese. It's just a feel good food. Although the stuff in the blue box is hands down one of the most popular macaroni and cheeses out there; there are a lot of people who don't care for it and feels like it's lacking in flavor. If you are one of those people, please don't let this turn you off of this wonderful food. Macaroni and cheese is so very easy to make and can be customized to your taste. Just boil your noodles as normal, which is so easy, right? After this point your half way there. Then for the cheese sauce, the good stuff, just combine milk/cream, butter, your favorite cheese (this is the fun part where you customize your mac and cheese) and salt and pepper. I mean, does it get any easier than that? I think not!
Now, for those of you who love mac and cheese but need a new twist on it to liven things up, this part is for you. Although this is a wonderful dish by itself, it never hurts to experiment by adding new ingredients. The first time I did this I made, crab macaroni and cheese, and it was delicious! This time I made macaroni and cheese with winter pesto...and ohmygoodness it was so good. I think this is one of my new favorite recipes and it would be delicious with any type of pesto. The pesto adds so much to this and it's just another depth of flavor the compliments the pasta and cheese so well. If you love macaroni and cheese and if you love pesto this is the dish for you, you will not be disappointed!
Macaroni and Cheese with Winter Pesto
1 Pound Orecchiette or other small shaped pasta
For the Pesto-
1 Cup, loosley packed, parsley
1 Cup, loosley packed, arugula
1 Cup, loosley packed, basil
1 Cup walnuts, toasted
3-4 Gloves garlice, finely grated or minced
About 1/3 Cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
For the Sauce-
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Rounded Tablespoons flour
2 1/2 Cups milk
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1/2 Pound Italian Fontina cheese
1/2 Cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water has reached a boil, salt the water and add the pasta. Cook pasta according to directions until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the water and set both the water and pasta aside.
For the pesto-
Place the parsley, arugula, basil, garlic, walnuts, and cheese in a food processor and pulse until all the ingredients are ground. Turn the food processor on low and slowly stream in the olive oil until ingredients come together. Season with salt and pepper and slightly pulsle a few times to incorporate the seasonings completely. Set aside.
For the sauce-
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook one minute. Add the milk and whisk continuously until all the milk is added. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg and simmer at a low bubble until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Once the sauce has thickened stir in the Fontina cheese to melt, reserve a handful.
In a large pot or bowl combine the pesto, cheese sauce and pasta and mix together. Adjust seasonings then place in one large, or several individual, casserole dishes. Top each dish with the reserved Fontina cheese as well as the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Bake 30-40 minutes, until cheese is melted, brown and bubbly on top.
Recipe Source: Rachael Ray Show, Rachael Ray