Ham and Cheese Mac
This tasty version of mac ‘n cheese is a great way to try out asparagus (especially for picky eaters!), and the easy salad included in the recipe makes for a complete meal.
- 1 pound cavatappi-shaped pasta or whole wheat penne or whole wheat elbow macaroni
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 cups milk
- 1/4 cup hot sauce
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 cup white cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 cup Gruyère cheese, grated
- 2 handfuls of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided
- 3/4 pound thickly sliced French ham, chopped
- A handful of parsley, chopped
- 4 sprigs tarragon, chopped
For the salad:
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (eyeball it)
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (eyeball it)
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 English (seedless) cucumber, cut in half lengthwise then thinly sliced into half moons
- Pre-heat the broiler.
- Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring it up to a boil to cook the pasta. Once at a boil, add some salt and the pasta and cook it until al dente, according to package directions.
- Snap off the woody stems of the asparagus by holding the spears at each end and bending them. The stems will just snap off! Discard the woody, fibrous end and cut the asparagus spears in half so they are bite-size and about the size of the noodles (if using elbow macaroni, the asparagus can be a little bigger than the pasta). When the pasta has about 3-4 minutes left of cooking time, add in the asparagus and cook it along with the pasta.
- While the pasta and asparagus are cooking, heat a medium size skillet over medium heat and add the butter. When the butter melts, add the flour and cook for about a minute. Whisk in the stock, milk, hot sauce and Dijon mustard and bring the mixture to a bubble, stirring frequently, until the liquid thickens slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar, Gruyère and one handful of the Parmigiano Reggiano in a figure-eight motion. Fold in the ham, parsley and tarragon and taste to adjust seasonings.
- Drain the cooked pasta and asparagus well and combine with the cheese sauce. Turn the mixture out into a casserole dish, then top with remaining Parmigiano Reggiano. Transfer the casserole to the oven and place under the broiler to brown the cheese.
- While the Ham and Cheese Mac is browning, make the salad by combining the mustard, white wine vinegar, shallot and a little salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in 3 tablespoons of EVOO. Add the grape tomatoes and smash some of them against the side of the bowl with a fork so that their juices become part of the dressing. Add the sliced cucumbers and toss to coat. Serve the salad alongside the Ham and Cheese Mac.