The past weekend was the weekend for comfort food, including this sausage and spinach mac and cheese. As the weather turns gloomy and we realize that the three hour move north really will make a difference in terms of the number of cloudy days and rain, I’m starting to dig around more in Pinterest and my own recipe archives to find foods that evoke warmth and coziness. Mac and cheese is definitely one of these – it’s super indulgent and satisfying.
I much prefer making my own cheese sauce rather than eating mac and cheese made out of the contents of a box. Making cheese sauce can be intimidating, as to get it to the proper thickness, you start with a roux. A roux definitely borders the line between easy cooking into a more Martha Stewart or Nigella Lawson world, but I promise you, it’s not nearly as complicated as it might seem. The key is low heat and paying attention to the butter and flour in the first stage and then keeping a close eye on the milk or cream in the second stage. Keep it on low, use a whisk to keep stirring, and just keep stirring and it will turn out just fine.
I recommend some sort of chicken sausage for this recipe – I used an Olympia Provisions sausage (OP is quite popular in this part of the PNW). Spinach is a good go-to green to include, though this would work well with chard or kale, as well.
Sausage and Spinach Mac and Cheese
1 head roasted garlic (optional)
3 tablespoons butter
1 ½ tablespoons flour
1 cup half and half or milk
2 cups cheese (gruyere works well, as does cheddar)
4 precooked sausages, chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 bunch spinach
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ package rotini pasta or similar
½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon olive oil
Bring a pot of water to a boil and boil the pasta according to the directions on the package.
While the pasta is cooking, wash and chop the spinach. Sauté the spinach on medium heat in 1 teaspoon olive oil until it is wilted. Remove from the heat and drain in a colander to remove excess moisture. Set aside.
Make the cheese sauce. Add the butter and roasted garlic (if using) to a small sauce pan. Melt the butter over low heat and mash the garlic as the butter melts. Once the butter is melted, add the flour a little bit at a time and whisk it into the butter as you add. When all the flour is incorporated, cook on low for a minute, continuously whisking. Add the milk or half and half and continue to stir for about 5-7 minutes or until the sauce begins to thicken. Once thickened, remove from heat and add the cheese, stirring to incorporate.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Assemble the pasta, sausage, and spinach in an oven-proof pan. An 11 x 13 Pyrex pan works well for this. Spoon the cheese sauce over the pasta mixture and gently fold in. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients for the breadcrumb topping and then spread the topping over the mac and cheese. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. Enjoy!