Autumn has officially arrived in the Pacific Northwest. And by autumn, I mean rain. It'll be here with us until at least March (but most likely May), so we're battening down the hatches and preparing our tummies for some good, homemade comfort food. Which leads me nicely into my next recipe. Granny Smith apple and cheddar mac and cheese, anyone? Apples so perfectly represent the fall season in all its glory, so of course we wanted to feature an apple-spiked mac and cheese recipe. Not to mention the fact that cheese and apples go together like Mom and apple pie. I found this one thanks to Farm Flavor.
I decided to funk it up a little with whole wheat fusilli - just wasn't in the elbows mood today. I also went with fat-free milk and whole wheat Panko breadcrumbs to healthy it up a little bit. And of course, I had to go with one of my favorite cheeses, Tillamook. This time, I used an extra-sharp special reserve cheddar. I started by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. I then sprayed a round Pyrex casserole dish liberally with Pam. Next, I cooked the fusilli according to the package directions until al dente. The pasta was rinsed with cold water to arrest the cooking process, then drained and set aside.
While the pasta was cooking, I prepped the rest of the ingredients. The apples were finely chopped, skins remaining on to add a little color to the dish.
The shallots received the same treatment.
The extra-sharp cheddar was shredded, and then I was ready to begin the sauce. First, I heated the butter in a large pot. Once the butter was melted, I added the shallots and cooked everything for about three minutes.
The flour was stirred in and the mixture was then cooked for another minute or so. I then slowly added the milk to the pot, whisking constantly. The mixture was brought to a simmer and the bay leaf was added. The sauce was then reduced to low heat and cooked for ten minutes, whisking frequently. Once the sauce was cooked, I removed the bay leaf. I added two cups of cheddar and the Marsala wine and stirred over low heat until the cheese was melted. The sauce was then removed from the heat and seasoned with salt and pepper. I added the diced apples and fusilli to the sauce and stirred gently until everything was combined, then added the mac and cheese to the round Pyrex dish. The Panko breadcrumbs and the remaining cheddar were sprinkled on top and the mac and cheese was baked for about a half-hour, until the top was lightly browned. The kitchen began to smell amazing about halfway through the baking, and I didn't know how I was going to make it. Not to mention that I had to let the dish rest for five minutes once it came out of the oven.
After a nail-bitingly long five minutes, I dug in.
The flavor was the very essence of Thanksgiving. Infusing the milk with the bay leaf definitely made a difference. Amazing! While the delicate color of the Granny Smith apples didn't contrast as much as I'd hoped with the mac and cheese, I would definitely use them again over a red apple for the sheer tart clean flavor that shone through. The only drawback was that the sauce was a little too thin and watery - next time, I may decrease the milk to two cups or even slightly less.
Three elbows up! And this from someone who wasn't at all sure about adding apples to mac and cheese...silly me! Here is my recipe, inspired by Farm Flavor.
- 1 1/4 cups whole wheat fusilli
- 1 1/2 cups (one large apple) Granny Smith apple, diced with skin on
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup shallots, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 1/4 cups fat-free milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 1/3 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon Marsala wine
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup whole wheat Panko breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a round casserole dish with Pam and set aside.
- Cook fusilli per package instructions to al dente. Rinse in cold water, then drain and set aside.
- Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for three minutes, until tender. Add flour and cook for another minute.
- Slowly whisk in milk. Bring mixture to a simmer, whisking constantly. Add bay leaf. Reduce heat to low and cook for ten minutes, whisking frequently. Remove bay leaf.
- Stir in two cups of cheddar and the Marsala wine. Stir over low heat until the cheese is melted. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper.
- Add fusilli and apple to the sauce and gently stir until mixed. Place the mac and cheese into the casserole dish, then sprinkle on the remaining cheddar cheese and Panko breadcrumbs.
- Bake, uncovered, for thirty minutes or until the top is slightly browned. Let stand five minutes before serving.
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