Savory Interlude: Eric’s Favorite Four-Cheese Penne

November 11, 2011
1 Comment

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Every once in a while, I like to take a brief blogging break from the sugary sweet world of cookies, cakes, and confections, and post a little something that sings to your savory side.

(Impressive alliteration in that sentence, huh?)

 

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A few nights ago, I was preparing one of Eric’s favorite dishes for dinner — a dish that I have prepared enough times that I don’t need to so much as peek at the recipe, just to make sure that I am getting it right.  Come to think of it, the original recipe sheet was destroyed a few years ago, after too much kitchen splatter, wear, and tear, so I couldn’t look at it even if I wanted to.

As the dish came out of the oven, in all of its bubbly cheese sauce, golden brown topping, heavenly aroma goodness, it occurred to me that I had never posted this recipe on my blog.  And in my humble opinion, that qualifies as a food crime.  I have selfishly been keeping this universally pleasing rendition of the ultimate comfort food to myself for all of these years.

So, in the spirit of the season, I am going to share.

 

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At first glance, I realize that a dressed up macaroni and cheese recipe doesn’t really fall in line with my November-December “holiday entertaining” theme.  Well, just hear me out.

This is, in fact, the perfect recipe to have on hand during the holiday season, either for feeding a large crowd of hungry guests or for defrosting and reheating on nights when even pouring a bowl of cereal for dinner seems too time-consuming.  I’ll often make this for Eric in advance when I am heading out of town for a few days, so that I don’t return to piles of In ‘N Out Burger wrappers and pizza boxes in the garbage.

The great thing about this recipe (other than the taste) is that you can bake the whole thing in one large casserole dish, or you can divide it into individual baking dishes of various sizes.  Smaller dishes can be served as appetizers, sides, or portions for children, while the larger ones can feed even the hungriest adult.  I think that I found my dishes, pictured above and below, at World Market for about $3.99 each.  Have you been there?  Great bargains, but it can be hard to exercise self-control when you see yet another cute set of ramekins, which you might need someday…..so bring someone who will talk some sense into you (i.e. not your enabling BFF, who shares same ramekin addiction.)

 

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So anyway, back to the recipe: Four creamy cheeses, tangy sun-dried tomatoes, salty prosciutto, fresh sage.  Need I say more?  Give it a try.  It’s super yummy.  Not exactly low-fat, but all of that holiday running around is sure to burn extra calories, right?  Right.  I’ll be back next time with something for your sweet tooth!  For now, I’m off and running — lots of holiday stuff to do :)

Here are my extra tips for making this cheesy and comforting crowd pleaser:

  • Feel free to mix and match your favorite cheeses in place of the ones that I have listed.  Make sure that they are varietals that melt fairly easily though.  Mozzarella, cheddar, pepper jack, brie, and Emmental would all be good options.  Try to do a combination of tangy and mild flavors for best results.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes can be expensive in some stores, so you can cut costs by substituting one 14-oz can of diced tomatoes, well drained.
  • This is a great make-ahead recipe.  You can leave it unbaked and divide it into the baking dishes (or one large dish), wrap tightly, and freeze.  Thaw the dishes in the refrigerator overnight and then bake as directed.
  • You can also fully bake the dishes and then freeze them.  Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then cover with foil and reheat at 350F until warmed through and bubbling.

 

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Four Cheese Penne with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Prosciutto

Printable version

Serves 10-12

Ingredients:

1 pound penne pasta

4 tablespoons butter

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 tablespoon minced fresh sage

1/2 cup flour

5 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups grated Gruyere Cheese

2 cups grated Parmesan Cheese

1 cup grated Fontina Cheese

1 cup crumbled Blue Cheese or Gorgonzola

6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch strips

1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the penne and cook until al dente, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Drain the pasta and toss it with a splash of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together.

Butter a large (about 3 quart) casserole dish or individual oven-proof dishes, if using.

In a large saucepan set over medium heat, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter.  Add the onion and cook until softened and lightly golden, 5-6 minutes.  Add the sage and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.  Add the flour and stir constantly for one minute more.

Slowly add the milk to the saucepan while continuing to stir.  Cook the mixture, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens.  Turn off the heat and stir in the salt, pepper, and cayenne.  Add all four cheeses, the sun-dried tomatoes, and the prosciutto to the mixture, stirring until the cheese has melted.

Add the reserved penne to the cheese sauce, stirring until well incorporated.  Transfer the mixture to the buttered casserole dish or divide it among the individual dishes set on a baking sheet.  Bake until the cheese sauce is bubbling and the top is browned, about 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the baking dish.  Transfer the dish(es) to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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