Not all that long ago, I had room in my brain for all the details I wanted to store there: birthdays, phone numbers, shopping lists, passwords, my car's license plate number, and the high-point three-letter Scrabble words. I also remembered who among my family and friends didn't eat strawberries, black olives, fish, dairy, stinky cheese, or green vegetables (bet you can guess that last one). Someone doesn't love mushrooms. I can't remember who, but I feel sorry for that person, because he (I'm certain it's a he) will miss out on this irresistible whole wheat mushroom mac and cheese when it appears on my Thanksgiving buffet this year. Whole wheat pasta isn't my favorite, but paired with woodsy cremini mushrooms and thyme from my garden, along with Gruyere or Danish fontina cheese, the more dense pasta seems so right. Serve this mac and cheese as a hearty vegetarian main course, or a side dish for any holiday meal.
Whole wheat macaroni and cheese with mushrooms and thyme
13.25-oz box of whole wheat elbow macaroni
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 leek, trimmed, washed, and chopped
12 oz sliced mushrooms (I love cremini or baby bella)
3 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
4 cups skim (nonfat) milk
8 oz gruyere or Danish fontina cheese, grated
1 tsp kosher salt
1-1/2 tsp black pepper
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Olive-oil cooking spray
Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat a straight-sided casserole dish (approx. 9x11 inches) with cooking spray.
Bring a large pot with 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add macaroni; cook until al dente according to package instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl.
In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over low heat, and sauté the chopped leek for 2 minutes, until quite soft. Add the mushrooms and thyme, stir to combine, and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the mushrooms have given off their liquid and are lightly browned. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a small sauce pan, heat the butter over medium heat, and when it bubbles, sprinkle in the flour. Stir vigorously so the butter absorbs the flour, about 1 minute. Then, slowly pour in the milk, whisking steadily to make sure there are no lumps. Let the milk cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove the pot from heat, and stir in the gruyere, salt and pepper.
Pour the cheese sauce into the macaroni, and add the cooled mushroom mixture. Stir to combine.
Transfer noodle mixture to the prepared dish. In a small bowl, combine panko, remaining parmesan cheese, and parsley. Sprinkle evenly over noodle mixture.
Place in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is browned and the cheese is bubbling a bit along the edges. Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 minutes, and serve hot.
Serve immediately, or let cool and refrigerate for up to two days. As fantastic as this is on the first day, it's even better on the second day.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Shrimp, lemon, herb and feta macaroni and cheese
Slow-roasted tomato macaroni and cheese
Butternut squash macaroni and cheese
Polenta with wild mushroom ragout
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Whole wheat Greek orzo salad, from Pinch My Salt
Mushroom spinach and asparagus pasta, from Shutterbean
Whole wheat spaghetti with garlic, chard, and pecorino-romano cheese, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Pasta with peppers and mushrooms, from Fearless Kitchen
Pasta with wild mushrooms, peas and bacon, from Turntable Kitchen
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