Cheesy Pasta: Move Over Mac!

Americans really do love macaroni and cheese – the dish is ubiquitous in magazines, websites, food blogs. What is there not to love when a pasta is cheesy and baked to perfection with a little crust on top!? With that in mind, I thought I might suggest an alternative to the usual mac and cheese, one that came to me from my brother-in-law Carlo who has made the dish on several occasions and I swooned every time. This is a perfect dish to make for family or other group gatherings as you can make it ahead of time and it presents itself elegantly as well as being oh-so-delicious! Try this baked rigatoni with leeks and Gruyère sauce the next time you are looking for a dish that will please the cheese and pasta lovers in your family.

Carlo’s Pasta al Forno con Salsa Gruviera e Porri

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 lb. package  rigatoni (or 453 gr.) or other short pasta

3-4 leeks (at least 4 cups sliced thinly)

4 oz.  (150 gr.) diced pancetta

4 oz. butter (one stick) or about 90 gr.

¼ cup olive oil

2 ½ cups milk (600 ml.)

2 cups grated Gruyère  (swiss cheese)

½  cup whipping cream (100 ml)

2 tablespoons flour

2 generous tablespoons grated parmigiano

A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

A pinch of freshly grated black pepper and salt

Equipment

1  9×13 inch pyrex  or other oven-proof dish (3 qt  or 2.8 l)

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the baking dish and set aside.

2. Cut the bottom and top ends of the leeks, then wash them making sure no dirt is left between the leaves. Cut them lengthwise and give them another good rinse. Slice thinly. In a sauteé pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons butter and a little olive oil. Add the leeks and cook until softened. Season with salt.

3. In another small pan, cook the pancetta in a little olive oil until golden. Either drain or leave the pancetta to cool in the pan if it is not too fatty.

4. Make a white sauce by melting 2 tablespoons butter in a sauce pan, add 2 tablespoons flour and cook for two minutes.  Heat the milk (in a glass container in the microwave), then whisk  it into the flour and butter mixture, stirring constantly. Once the milk starts to boil gently, turn off the heat, add the whipping cream, the gruyere, and a dash of nutmeg. Stir and set aside.

5. In the meantime, heat the water for the rigatoni and once the water is boiling, salt it, and add the pasta. Cook it until barely al dente, then drain. In a large bowl put the pasta, add the leek mixture, the pancetta, and the cheesy white sauce. Stir until blended, then put it in the baking dish. Sprinkle the grated parmigiano (you may want to put more than 2 tablespoons!) and a light dusting of freshly grated black pepper.

6. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden. Let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Carlo mentioned to me that other ingredients can be added to this dish – or you can simply add more leeks or pancetta to suit your taste. I think it’s pretty perfect the way it is! You can make a vegetarian friendly version by omitting the pancetta and adding other vegetables. The leeks reign in this dish rendering it so rich tasting and satisfying, its full flavor on display. Thank you, Carlo, for your great dish I’m sure many will enjoy and make it part of their family tradition!