Monday, January 23, 2012

Italian Style Mac and Cheese

Winter has arrived...well it has arrived in theory. This year winter in my hometown seems a bit lacking in all of those things we think of when we think of winter- mainly snow, ice and freezing temperatures. I am craving heavy winter comfort food. You know what I mean, the stews, the soups, the chili, the heavy rich hearty foods designed to stick to your ribs and keep you warm and comforted. However, the view from my kitchen window looks more like September than January. Now having said that I suppose there is no real reason not to pull out our favorite comfort food recipes and enjoy all that rich heavy food you just don't care to even contemplate in the warmer months of the year. Since I can't layer clothing and play in the snow, I've decided to wrap myself in layers of cheese.
So I decided to give an Italian spin on the ever popular baked macaroni and cheese. Why Italian? Well, lets face the fact the you can't turn around twice in my area without coming face to face with an Italian restaurant or some wonderful Italian neighbor who can sure cook up an amazing feast without batting an eye! So I came up with this Italian spin, but feel free to improvise and make it your own. I will recommend that you use a short pasta like elbows, shells, rotini, penne or the like because they are sturdier and will help hold up to the cheesy sauce and the baking. Also feel free to substitute the meat with what you like or what you have on hand. I am using cubed pancetta but you could just as easily use salami, pepperoni, or prosciutto.

Italian Macaroni and Cheese
1 pound short cut pasta of your choice (I like shells)
1 cup diced pancetta
½ cup chopped oil packed sun-dried tomatoes
2 cloves garlic minced
½ cup roasted red peppers peppers, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded fontina cheese
1 cup shredded sharp provolone cheese
½ cup pecorino romano cheese grated (separated)
¼ cup shredded fresh basil
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high, saute the pancetta until crisped and browned, about 5 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers and onion. Continue to cook until the onion is very tender, about 5 to 6 minutes. Then add garlic and cook several minutes more until fragrant. Be very careful not to burn the garlic as it will become bitter. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the flour and stir to coat well.
Pour in the milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, add the cream,and return to boil continuing to stir. Cook until thickened. Turn off the heat and stir in the fontina, provolone,and ½ of the pecorino romano. Stir well until all of the cheese has melted. Stir in the basil and the cooked pasta. Season with salt and black pepper. Pour into a baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray (or buttered if you prefer). Sprinkle with remaining pecorino romano and bake uncovered until cheese on top is melted and slightly golden. Serve hot and bubbly from the oven with a tossed salad and some garlic bread.
Serves 8

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