with Spinach and Crispy Ham Crust
by Kate Heyhoe
Serves 4 to 6 as a main course; 8 as a side dish
This is comfort food with elegance. Yes, it's basically macaroni and cheese—but nothing that came out of a blue box ever tasted like this. Pasta is stirred into a thick, rich, creamy sauce that combines the nuttiness of Swiss cheese with the tang of Monterey Jack. It's flecked with fresh-cooked spinach, then nestled under a crisp, crunchy layer of finely diced ham and golden buttered breadcrumbs. Serve with a simple salad and tart vinaigrette to balance the rich cheese and cream flavors of this dish.
4 quarts water
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 bunch fresh spinach,
rinsed well and trimmed of thick stems
1/2 pound large elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter,
cut into 1 tablespoon pats
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
8 ounces cooked ham, diced (about 1/4 inch dice)
1/2 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk, whole or low-fat
8 ounces shredded Swiss cheese (about 2 cups)
8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 2 cups)
1-1/2 cups whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x12-inch baking dish.
2. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Stir in the salt and bring the water back to a full boil. Blanch the spinach in the water until just cooked (which takes only a few seconds), then scoop out the spinach, leaving the water in the pot (a pot with a pasta insert works well for this). Rinse the spinach under cold water in a colander and let drain.
3. While the spinach drains, bring the water back to a boil and cook the pasta until it's al dente. While the pasta cooks, squeeze the spinach until very dry, then finely chop. When the pasta is done, drain it in the colander and rinse with cold water.
4. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet. Stir in the breadcrumbs until well coated, cooking about 30 seconds until a pale golden brown. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
5. Melt another 1 tablespoon butter in the same skillet over medium heat. Add the ham and cook until the edges start to brown and crisp up. Remove the ham and set aside.
6. In the same skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and sauté the onion. When the onion is almost done, mix in the garlic and cook until the garlic softens. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture, then stir it in completely. Let the flour cook through, stirring and mashing it about as needed; this may take 2 to 5 minutes. If not cooked enough, the flour will taste raw; As soon as it starts to turn color and just begins to brown, it's done.
7. Gradually whisk in the milk. Simmer gently on low heat, stirring, until the sauce thickens. Remove the pan from the heat and gradually whisk in the Swiss and Monterey Jack cheeses. Keep stirring until the cheese melts. Then gradually whisk in the cream until completely incorporated into the sauce.
8. Whisk the spinach, white pepper and nutmeg into the sauce.
9. Stir the macaroni into the cheese sauce. Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish. Sprinkle the ham over the macaroni. Top with the breadcrumbs. Bake until the sides bubble up and the breadcrumbs are golden, about 30 to 40 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Kate's Global Kitchen
Kate's Global Kitchen for April, 2001:
04/07/01 Wild Sex, Death, and Guilt-free Dining
04/14/01 Cures for the Spring Ham-Over
04/21/01 Dining with Joe...Cooking with Coffee
04/28/00 Little Korean Dishes
Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created February 2001