December 21, 2010

Baked Pasta with Cheddar & Leeks to Serve a Crowd {Naptime Entertaining}

Mac & Cheese with Leeks

What’s Going on Today: Christmas craziness, is there any more I need to say?

Naptime Goals: Pull together Macaroni & Cheese with Leeks

Tonight’s Menu: Macaroni & Cheese with Leeks, Baked Chicken, Wine (and lots of it!)

Parenting Lesson of the Day: Don’t laugh when they ask Santa for a trampoline.

The next few weeks will be a little nutty for me. We are hosting our first ever Christmas with my in-law’s. I’ve always traveled for the holidays so it will be fun to stay at home this year. In order to get things accomplished I’ve been making dinners that will last me at least two nights. For example, we had this delicious casserole for two nights in a row and I baked chicken or fish to serve alongside it. It was nice having this in the fridge and ready to go at a moment’s notice. I even prepared the whole thing during naptime one afternoon so it didn’t take away from any of the Christmas activities with my daughter.

I found this recipe in the March 2009 Bon Appetit and didn’t make it until this year. I had ripped it out and placed it in my recipe binder anticipating that it would be exactly what I was in the mood for someday. That day came last winter and again this fall, and now, again, this December. I’ve made it half a dozen times and it gets better every time I make it. The leeks lend the sharp cheese a subtle sweet oniony flavor, giving the dish an upscale twist. In fact, once I became confident in it’s robust flavor I made it for a friend who just had a new baby. The meal I put together for her included this casserole, baked chicken and some desserts and side dishes. It was a yummy way to help her out and the casserole proved to travel well.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be popping in and out of the blog while I endure enjoy all of the holiday madness. I will, of course, have many great recipes and ideas for you. I promise, everything will be fun/delicious/pretty/naptime-friendly/interesting – but not overly complicated. This season is a great time to indulge in wonderful food, but it is not the time to be shackled to the stove, or the computer for that matter. Happy Holidays!

Recipe

Baked Pasta with Cheddar & Leeks

adapted from Bon Appetit March 2009

Ingredients

½ stick unsalted butter
5 cups chopped leeks, thoroughly washed and patted dry
¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 ½ cups whole milk
4 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 large eggs
1 pound spiral pasta

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cook pasta in heavily salted water according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a large straight edge skillet or deep pot over medium heat. Add the chopped leeks and saute until they are tender and translucent, about 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in the flour and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Gently pour in the milk and bring it to a low simmer. Stir the milk often so that it does not burn on the bottom of the pan. Add the cheese and stir until it has melted. Then turn off the heat and remove the pan to a cool spot.

3. Crack the eggs into a small mixing bowl and gently pour about 1 cup of the hot cheese mixture into the bowl, whisking continuously. This will temper the eggs so that they don’t cook when they are added to the cheese sauce. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet of cheese sauce, whisking constantly.

4. Place the cooked pasta in a 13×9 baking dish. Pour the hot cheese sauce over the pasta and stir it in to make sure it is evenly coated.

5. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top of the pasta is browned and the cheese sauce is bubbly.

Naptime Notes

Naptime Recipe Serving ideas

This rich dish goes well with a simple light grilled chicken or fish. It is bountiful enough to serve a crowd if you have a lot of holiday guests! The pasta can be left covered in the pan BEFORE baking for up to overnight in the refrigerator. It can also be baked and frozen for a later date.

Naptime Stopwatch

30 minutes to prepare the dish, plus baking time.

Naptime Reviews

My daughter loves this dish, even with the leeks. This is an easy sell for children as well as adults, there is no need to serve up the boxed stuff over the holidays!