Here of late, I have been craving comfort food. Particularly at lunch time, I want a cozy pasta, soup, a salad. Macaroni and cheese definitely fits the definition of comfort, and everything is better with pesto – thus, this very seasonal pesto was born.
Pesto Macaroni and Cheese
Walnut and Greens Pesto
2 cups spinach
1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves torn into smaller pieces (I used curly leaf kale, but other kale types would work fine, too).
1 cup walnuts
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
Put spinach, kale, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and salt in a food processor. Run the processor for a few minutes, until most of the ingredients are broken down. While running the processor, stream in the olive oil and lemon juice and process until you have a paste.
You could certainly add more garlic to this – but since this is for a work lunch, I try to be sensitive to my co-workers. This will also make much more pesto than is needed for the mac and cheese, so if you want less, half the ingredients. Alternatively, this pesto freezes like a dream. I freeze individual pesto blocks in an ice-cube tray and then throw them in with pasta for a quick and easy lunch.
Pesto Macaroni and Cheese
2 cups dried pasta (I used gemelli, but you could use other shapes, as well)
5 tablespoons butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Salt to taste
2 cups grated cheese (I used 1 cup Asiago and 1 cup cheddar. Other cheeses would do fine here).
½ cup walnut and greens pesto
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup Asiago or Parmesan cheese, grated
Boil water for the pasta in a saucepan. Once water is boiling, add the dried pasta. The Gemelli cooked for about 10 minutes to get to an al dente stage. Whatever pasta you are using, cook until just al dente. Any longer and the additional cook time in the oven and then in the microwave to heat it up will make the pasta mushy.
While the pasta is cooking, start the cheese sauce. In a small saucepan, melt the butter at a medium heat. When the butter is fully melted, whisk in the flour, a little bit at a time. Keep whisking as all flour is incorporated. The roux base should be smooth and creamy. Keep whisking for a minute. Slowly pour in the milk and keep whisking. Once all the milk is incorporated, keep the sauce on medium heat and stir frequently for about 10 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken. I find it better just to stand there and whisk than risk burnt milk. When the sauce has thickened, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheeses, the black pepper, salt to taste, and the pesto. Don’t be alarmed – the mixture will be a lovely shade of green.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Drain the pasta and put it back in its saucepan. Pour the cheese and pesto mixture over the pasta and mix. Divide the pasta evenly amongst four ramekins or four glass Tupperware containers that are oven safe. My glass Tupperware are my go-to for my lunch dishes, as they are microwave safe. In a small bowl, mix together the Panko breadcrumbs, the olive oil and the Asiago or Parmesan cheese. Divide this mixture evenly over the mac and cheese. Bake the mac and cheese for ten minutes at 400 degrees. This warms everything up nicely and starts to melt the cheese and brown the breadcrumbs. Turn the oven to broil and broil for 3 – 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it as the breadcrumbs can overbrown quickly. Once the top is browned to your liking, pull the dishes out of the oven and either serve or cool for storage. I found this recipe to be very freezer-friendly. The breadcrumbs and pesto make the end result a bit grainy, but this doesn’t detract from the taste. Happy lunch-time eating!