Do you ever have a day in the early autumn when you absolutely *must* have comfort food? OK, maybe more than one day? A day like that just happened for me, while the NYC area was being rained on by a Nor’Easter for a week, while waiting to see if a hurricane was going to hit us next. I decided I *needed* to make classic macaroni and cheese, with a Radish Rose twist.
Where does one turn for the best classic recipes? To Cook’s Illustrated New Best Recipe, of course! For my Radish Rose variation, I added smoked paprika and dijon mustard to the classic cheese sauce, and I mixed in some kale before baking for extra healthy yum (not that this dish is slenderizing in any way!). And instead of regular bread crumbs, I used panko for extra crunchiness in the golden brown topping. I also baked it instead of broiling it as the original recipe says, because of that time I caught a breadcrumb topping on fire in the broiler. See? I can be taught.
I baked this bad boy in a cast iron dutch oven, which meant that the bottom and sides got crispy, not just the top, and any kale that was touching the sides also got kind of crispy and kale-chip-like.That was an unexpected bonus! The combination of creamy and crunchy textures is simply awesome. If you don’t have a cast iron dutch oven, though, just use a 9×13 inch casserole dish.
- For the topping:
- 2 c. panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) or regular, plain breadcrumbs
- 3 T. butter
- For the pasta and sauce:
- 1 lb. kale, torn into bite-sized pieces, tough stems removed
- 1 lb. elbow (macaroni) pasta
- Salt for pasta-cooking water
- 5 T. butter
- 6 T. all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp. dry mustard
- 1½ tsp. smoked paprika
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper or ground chipotle (optional, to taste)
- 5 c. milk (I used 1% but the original recipe says any kind will work)
- 1 T. prepared Dijon mustard (like Grey Poupon)
- 1 tsp. fine sea salt
- 8 oz. grated Monterey Jack cheese
- 8 oz. grated sharp Cheddar cheese
- Prepare the topping: Melt the 3 T. butter in the microwave and drizzle over the panko, stirring to blend. Set aside until needed.
- Prepare the kale & pasta: Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Once it has reached a rolling boil, add the kale by handfuls (letting it collapse and then adding more) until it is all in the pot. Blanch for 5 minutes, then LIFT the kale out into a colander set in a bowl, using tongs or a wire spider (baskety thing on a handle). You will be reusing the water to boil the pasta. Isn't that clever? Once you've removed the kale, bring the water back to a boil (which won't take long), add the pasta, and cook according to package directions. When the pasta is done, drain well and set aside. Once the kale has cooled, use your hands to squeeze out as much water as you can, remove any remaining tough stems, and set aside.
- Prepare the cheese sauce: Before you start the sauce, make sure you've got your milk measured out, because you can't stop whisking to do it later. In a large pot (you'll be adding the kale and pasta to the cheese sauce in this pot, so it has to be pretty big), melt the 5 T. butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the flour, mustard, smoked paprika, and cayenne or chipotle (if using) and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Whisking constantly, gradually add the milk, incorporating until smooth. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. The mixture must reach a full boil to thicken, so once it's boiling, turn the heat down to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally (but don't wander off!!) until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, whisk in the prepared Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. salt, and the cheeses. Make sure you've squeezed the kale dry, then add it and the pasta to the sauce, and mix well.
- Assemble and bake the casserole: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Grease your Dutch oven or casserole. Turn the pasta, kale, and cheese sauce mixture into it, and distribute evenly (I like to smooth the surface so nothing sticks up to get burned). Sprinkle evenly with the prepared panko-butter mixture, and bake for about 20 minutes until golden. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!!