To make a short story long, my parents are moving up to my area soon. That means parental-unit visits on a regular basis, which I LOVE. That also means field trips around the Pacific Northwest, one of which brought us to Garden Treasures, a lovely farm stand operation in Arlington, WA recently.
Actually, we'd been by several times - always zooming back & forth along State Route 530 and never taking the time to stop, but pining to do so each and every time we passed. So finally, we made the time. And lost about an hour...but it was a wonderful hour! We explored the whole place, wanting to take home much more than we actually ended up with. But one of these items was a verrry interesting block of lavender cheddar cheese. The small bin containing the Golden Glen Creamery cheeses is just off to your right as you first enter the big red barn. And if you're not local or just not inclined to head to Arlington, you can purchase their artisan cheeses online. There were several varieties available, but I wanted something a little different so I went for the lavender cheddar.
We headed home after our visit, giddily happy with our purchases and me already dreaming up lavender cheddar mac & cheese possibilities. After several variations, I settled on a simple preparation which adds a touch of fresh thyme flavor to offset the flavorful lavender. Time to gather my ingredients. Since I went local with the cheese, I also went local with the pasta (Casarecce from Lagana pasta, one of my local favorites for fresh pasta), the lavender and the thyme (both from my garden). And if you want, we can call the Tillamook butter close enough to local, as well (it's just over in the next state, after all...). To begin, I melted a tablespoon of butter in the microwave and once melted, added the Panko breadcrumbs and fresh thyme and gave it a good stir. Once everything was well-mixed, I set the mixture aside.
Pop the oven on to 350 degrees, Pam an 8x8 oven-safe pan, then prepare the pasta according to the directions on the package. Once cooked, drain and set aside. By the way, the fresh Lagana pasta gave off the most intoxicating yeasty scent as it cooked - I wanted to scoop up the scent and bottle it! While the pasta is cooking, shred your cheese. In the same large pot over medium heat, melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter and once melted, add flour and whisk to combine. Continue cooking and whisking for about three minutes, or until the roux turns toasty-colored. Slowly whisk in the milk and continue to cook until the mixture begins to thicken (about five minutes). Reduce the heat to low. Add seasoned salt and seasoned pepper and whisk to combine, then add the lavender cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and everything in the pot is happily mixed. Add the cooked pasta and stir once again. Grab your Pammed pan and scoop the macaroni and cheese into it, topping it with the buttery thyme breadcrumb mixture. Let it bake for thirty minutes, then remove from the oven and allow it to sit for at least five minutes. Yes, I know it's tedious to have to wait five minutes, but just do it. It allows the mac & cheese to firm up just slightly and believe me, you'll be happier for it. Feel free to sprinkle some additional fresh lavender and/or thyme over the dish just prior to serving. The casarecce had a nice firmness and the cheese sauce took to it perfectly. The lavender imparted a delicate, not overpowering, flavor (I know lavender can be a polarizing herb, just like cilantro) and blended beautifully with the buttery thyme breadcrumbs. The medium cheddar provided a solid flavor as well - all in all, each flavor balanced the next and nothing overwhelmed anything else. So what did I think? I give it 3.5 elbows. The lavender gave the dish such a wonderful light and summery feel! Here is my recipe.
- 16 ounces fresh casarecce pasta (or other short pasta)
- 1 pound lavender-infused medium white cheddar, shredded (or, 1 pound medium white cheddar plus 1 tablespoon culinary lavender)
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups fat-free milk
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 1 teaspoon seasoned pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- In a small bowl, melt 1 tablespoon butter in microwave. Add Panko breadcrumbs and fresh thyme and stir to combine. Set the bowl aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pam an 8x8 oven-safe pan and set aside.
- Prepare the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain, then set aside.
- In same large pot over medium heat, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add flour and whisk to combine. Continue cooking and whisking for 3 minutes or until roux turns toasty-colored.
- Slowly whisk in milk and continue to cook until mixture begins to thicken (about 5 minutes). Reduce heat to low.
- Add seasoned salt and seasoned pepper and whisk to combine, then add lavender cheese and stir until melted. Add cooked pasta and stir to combine.
- Scoop macaroni and cheese into Pammed pan, topping with breadcrumb mixture. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Feel free to sprinkle fresh lavender and/or thyme over the dish just prior to serving.
- Serve and scarf down immediately!
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