Mac n Cheese Italian Style. Different pasta. Different sauce. Different cheese.
The making of Mac n Cheese Italian Style
It's Meatless Monday and I feel like Mac n Cheese for dinner. Only problem, the cheeses I have in the refrigerator lean more toward Italian, fontina, asiago, and parmesan, rather than the usual cheddar fare. OK...let's make Mac n Cheese with an Italian flare.
I start with strozzapreti pasta because I like the denser texture and interesting shape. If you can't find strozzapreti, use another interesting pasta shape, like Gemelli. You could also use small shells or good old elbow macaroni. In Italy, all pasta is just macaroni of different shapes and sizes, each having its own specific purpose and sauce. It's amazing to me how each pasta, made with the same three ingredients, can taste and present so differently from each other.
OK... I've found my pasta. Mac n Cheese usually starts with a béchamel sauce or roux; I have some ricotta in the refrigerator, so I decide to use that with some added cream as my base. I also have some fennel and think that will be an interesting addition.
The sautéed fennel adds a unique taste and texture to the Mac n Cheese, but if you don't have any, you can omit it. To finish it off, a nice crunchy topping, in the oven and Buon Appetito!
Mac n Cheese Italian Style
- 12 ounce strozzapreti pasta cooked according to package directions, ½ cup pasta water reserved
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 fennel bulb trimmed, halved and sliced laterally into thin slices
- 2 cups quality ricotta cheese or homemade
- 1 cup light cream
- ¾ cup grated Asiago cheese
- ½ cup grated Fontina cheese
- Dash ground nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or as needed
- 1 - 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ to 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasonings
- 2 teaspoons minced parsley
- Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan, add the fennel and sauté over medium-low heat until they become soft, and just begin to brown on the edges. Add the ricotta, cream, Asiago, and Fontina cheese. Cook until they just melt together. Remove from the heat.
- Place the cooked pasta in a large bowl. Pour the sauce over, stir to combine, adding pasta water if it seems to thick. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.
- Wipe out the sauté pan; heat the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil over medium heat, when hot add the bread crumbs and sauté until just starting to brown. Remove from heat, stir in the Parmesan, Italian seasonings, and parsley.
- Pour the strozzapreti into a lightly oiled baking dish. Top with the bread mixture. Place in a 375°F oven and bake until hot and bubbly throughout. Serve immediately on warmed plates.