We all have our happy places, don’t we? It’s slipping into your favorite pajamas and socks after a long day’s work and just planting it in front of the TV. Or, the spot between my puppy’s neck and shoulder that seems to be the best place for a nuzzle. Lately, watching my kid belly laugh while I ‘gobble up’ his feet. And, a big bowl of macaroni and cheese.
I’m quite picky about my macaroni and cheese. So many people make it incorrectly, don’t you think? Sometimes it’s too watery (the worst) or too dry (big no no). The best mac and cheese has cheese – and, a lot of it. Not just cheese sauce, but the cheese blend that coats each nook and cranny of a macaroni.
While I have only enjoyed the traditional macaroni and cheese, with my new pesto stash, I wanted to experiment and give one of my favorite dishes a different flavor profile without sacrificing the creamy-cheesy foundation of the dish. And, while I wanted to stop at several steps ahead, proclaiming it’s perfect, keep going. Adding the roasted red bell pepper and the crunchy buttery topping will only build upon the flavors. But, for some reason if you didn’t have the ingredients or didn’t want to mix in the red peppers or the Panko crust, just know that it’s delicious on its own, as well.
Pesto Macaroni and Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Peppers
loosely adapted from Aida Mollenkamp
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp basil pesto
- 2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 3 tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces goat cheese
- 2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/2 cup basil pesto
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 4 roasted red bell peppers, drained and diced (recipe below)
- Heat a large dutch oven over low heat. Once melted, add the shallow and garlic and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the 1 tbsp of pesto, red pepper flakes, bread crumbs and 3 tbsp of Parmesan and mix to combine. Place the crumb mixture in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a large pot of heavily salted water, cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
- Using the same pan, add the half and half and bring to a simmer on the same low heat. You want the mixture to simmer, thicken and reduce, about 5 minutes. Add the shredded mozzarella. Whisk until the cheese has melted and no clumps remain. Add the goat cheese to the cheese mixture and whisk until smooth. Stir in the remaining Parmesan cheese and whisk until melted.
- Add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture and stir until incorporated. Mix in the 1/2 cup basil pesto, pasta water, salt and pepper. Mix gently to ensure it is evenly distributed and coated. Add additional salt and pepper if you need.
- Gently stir in the roasted peppers until evenly distributed.
- Top with the crumb mixture.
- Place under the dutch oven broiler for no more than 2 minutes until the crust has browned. (If you haven’t been using a dutch oven, just transfer the pasta to a baking dish and place in the oven.) Remove from broiler and let it cool about 5 minutes before serving.
Roasted Red Bell Peppers
adapted from Ina Garten
- 4 red bell peppers
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Preheat oven to 500F.
- Arrange bell peppers on a baking sheet.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, until skin is charred and wrinkled. Turn them twice during cooking.
- Remove from the oven and immediately place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.
- Let it sit for about 30 minutes, or until the peppers are cool enough to handle.
- Once cooled, remove the stem, seeds and skin, and place the peppers in a bowl with any juices. Pour the oil over the peppers and store in the refrigerator.