The warmth that comes from making baked mac & cheese seems to always extend well beyond the oven. During the colder months, it seems to fill the whole house making it the ultimate comfort food to me. Jane made a delicious batch a few weeks ago when she and a girlfriend stayed in one night to watch old movies. Despite an impressive collection of snacks for two people, and top-notch cocktails, it was the mac and cheese that made it a party. I was a bit dismayed that I was left out in the cold on this one.
Regardless of missing out on most of the fun, Jane’s version inspired me to dig out an old classic for me, baked macaroni and cheese with sage and Swiss Chard. It’s a dish that I’ve made many, many times over the years for family gatherings or holidays. It takes a little time with preparing the chard but it never fails to please and it’s well worth the effort. No pain, no gain right?
This time, however, I decided to add in a little twist. I’ve always enjoyed pasta dishes served with a walnut cream sauce. It adds the perfect nutty flavor to the rich cream sauce and I felt it would balance perfectly with the sage, chard, and paprika. It also boosted the texture throughout the dish instead of being limited to just the top layer of breadcrumbs and crisped pasta. All and all, I think it was the perfect addition and that’s how I’ll be making my mac and cheese from this day forward.
5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
2 cups (aged gouda cheese, grated
2 cups gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup walnuts, ground
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 pinch of nutmeg
Salt & pepper to taste
1.5 lbs Swiss chard, stems and ribs removed
12 oz macaroni pasta
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in large pot or saute pan over medium heat. Add onion; saute until translucent, approx 8 minutes. Stir in garlic, then flour and stir vigorously and consistently for 1 minute.
Gradually add milk and whisk occasionally until mix begins to boil, roughly 5 minutes. Add in both cups of gouda and 1 cup gruyere. Stir until cheeses melt, about 2-3 minutes. Once melted, add in the ground walnuts, paprika, nutmeg, and sage. Stir until combined adding salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare a baking dish (ideally 13 x 9 x 2) with butter.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, add chard and cook for about 1 minute. While keeping the water in the pot, remove chard and strain in a colander. Rinse with cold water to stop the chard from further cooking and then transfer to a plate or cutting board to cool. Squeeze water from chard and chop finely.
Place the pot with water over medium high heat and return to boil. Add macaroni pasta of choice and cook until tender but still firm to bite. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking.
Strain the macaroni and stir into the warm cheese sauce. Once macaroni is thoroughly covered, add half of macaroni to the prepared dish and layer the top with 1/2 cup of gruyere and all of the chard. Top with remaining macaroni mixture and cover evenly.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter and add to the breadcrumbs in medium bowl. Stir with a pinch of salt and pepper. Layer the top of the macaroni with the remaining gruyere and then the breadcrumb mix.
Place in the over for approximately 40 minutes or until the breadcrumbs brown and the cheese is bubbling. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.