For me a Mac ‘n cheese is absolute comfort food. But over the years I have grown to recognise what makes a good Mac ‘n cheese. Here are my criteria. It has to be baked, not just tossed in a pan. It has to have a crust, usually bread crumbs and cheese but anything crunchy works. And finally, lots of great cheese. We have lots of wonderful cheese in the world, easily available, let’s use them to make great dishes.
I believe that a Mac 'n cheese is an open palate for a great chef to highlight their skills. This means no more boring Mac ‘n cheese, but filled with something delicious inside. Meat, sausages, vegetables, as in this recipe, or a blend of amazing cheeses or anything the chef desires. A good Mac 'n cheese pops with flavor and must stand out.
This Mac ‘n cheese was no exception. A blend of flavorful cheeses, Swiss Gruyere, Italian pecorino, English mature cheddar and Greek feta give the roux a pop of cheesy goodness. The greens, in this case I used spinach, local gongura leaves for sourness and local fenugreek leaves (methi) for bitter.
This is one of my favorite chefs and cookbook authors. I have all of her books, and this one stands out for authentic and modern Greek flavors, like this dish.
For more recipes from this amazing cookbook, click here.
Also check out the amazing recipe for Spinach and caramelized leek mac and cheese, on this site.
3 lbs mixed greens, of iced flavors mild (spinach, chard, or their), sour (sorrel, gongura, or other), and bitter (arugula, dandelion, methi or other)
9 oz elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 spring onions, or shallots, sliced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A generous pinch of nutmeg
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, glared or cut into small cubes
1 cup pecorino cheese, grated or cut into small cubes
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated or cut into small cubes
1/3 cup dress dill, mined
1/2 cup crumbled feta
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Clean the greens and remove any tough stems. Wash throughly in 3 changes of water.
Heat a pot of water that will fit all the greens. Bring to a boil and blanch the greens for 1 minutes. They should be a bright green in color, if you overcook them they will turn an unappetising grey. Drain the greens through a fine mesh colander saving the water. Cool under cold water to stop the cooking.
Cook the pasta as per the directions on the packet less 1 minute in the water used to cook the greens plus dd more water as needed. Drain and set aside.
In a large saucepan heat the butter and olive oil on low. Add the scallions/shallots and some salt and sauté till the onions are soft. Keep the flame low, you do not want the onions to change color. Add the flour and continue sautéing till the flour is a light golden color, about 1 minute. Add the milk (the method that works best for me in making a béchamel is to add all the milk at once cold) and whisk till smooth. The sauce will thicken as the milk heats up till it coats a spoon evenly. Add the cheese (except feta), cinnamon, nutmeg and dill. Cook stirring continuously till all the cheese is melted. Please resist the urge to turn up the heat to melt the cheese faster, the cheese can split and you will be left with an oily mess. Taste and adjust salt.
You can now proceed in two ways.
The simple method:
Finely mince the blanched greens and mix into the roux. Add the cooked pasta and toss well. Layer into a Pyrex dish (2 quart) and top with breadcrumbs and feta cheese.
Method for striped pasta:
Separate the béchamel into two bowl. Add the minced greens to one and mix well. Add half the pasta to each bowl. Have ready 3 (or as many stripes as you want minus 1, I usually have 4 stripes) of foil that measure the width of Pyrex dish. Hold a piece of the foil about 1/4 from the top edge and fill with one of the pastas. Hold a second piece of foil 1/2 way down the dish (if making 4 stripes) and fill with the other pasta. Continue in the manner till the pasta is finished and you have four stripes. Remove foil and pat the pasta down to pack firmly. Top with breadcrumbs and feta cheese.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or till the center is bubbling and the top is well browned.
Allow to sit for 5 minutes and serve.