This dish pairs well with juicy steaks, prime rib and thick pork chops. The recipe uses Gruyere cheese named after the Gruyere valley of Fribourg, Switzerland. Gruyere has a nutty earthy flavor that compliments the wild mushrooms. Swiss cheese has a sharper flavor than the Gruyere and adds another layer of flavor. The country ham adds saltiness. The spinach? Well, it’s just good for you!
Grown Up Macaroni and Cheese with Wild Mushrooms, Spinach and Country Ham
1 pound assorted mushrooms (chanterelle, portobello, crimini, shitake, etc.)
3/4 cup chopped onion, 1/4 inch dice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons sherry
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 and 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup whipping cream
12 ounces Gruyere cheese or a mixture of Gruyere and Swiss cheese, shredded
Pinch of nutmeg
4 cups cooked pasta (spiral or corkscrew shaped pasta works well for this dish)
2 cups baby spinach, lightly packed
3 ounces country ham, 1/4 inch dice
Preheat oven to 350 F. To a large skillet add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and melt over medium high heat. Add diced onion to pan. Cook 3 minutes or until translucent, stirring the whole time so they don’t brown. Add mushrooms and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in sherry and thyme leaves. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and place in a bowl.
Prepare cheese sauce: In a medium saucepan melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter over medium high heat. Whisk in 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of flour. Keep whisking for 1 minute as flour and butter mixture bubble. Gradually whisk in milk and whipping cream, making sure to incorporate all the flour butter mixture into the liquid. (I use a spatula at this point to get the roux out of the corners of the saucepan). Increase heat to high. Keep whisking. When you notice the milk beginning to steam, lower heat to medium high. Keep whisking. The mixture will thicken slightly. Cook one more minute. Remove from heat and add cheese. Continue to whisk until mixture is smooth and cheese is completely melted. Add nutmeg. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Assemble casserole: To a large bowl add cooked pasta, spinach, country ham and cheese sauce. Stir until combined. The mixture will not be as thick as traditional macaroni and cheese but will thicken as it bakes. Transfer mixture to a 9 X 13 inch casserole dish coated with non-stick spray. Bake 350 F for 20 minutes. While casserole is baking prepare breadcrumb crust. See recipe below. After the casserole has baked 20 minutes, increase oven temperature to 375 F. Top casserole with breadcrumb crust and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes until breadcrumb crust is golden brown and mixture is bubbly.
1 and 1/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs (from French or Italian loaves)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Process chunks of French or Italian bread in a food processor until it turns into breadcrumbs. Stir in thyme and Parmesan cheese first, and then stir in melted butter. Sprinkle on top of casserole.
Published in The News and Neighbor on December 9, 2015.