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Leek Tops Mac and Cheese


One of my new favorite vegetables are leeks, which we started picking up after seeing them at the farmers’ market (in season September to December).  Leeks look a bit like scallions on steroids, but the taste is a lot milder than its pungent onion relatives, with a hint of sweetness.  Most recipes only call for the white onion base and light green stalk to be used, while the dark green tops are typically discarded since they are tougher and have less flavor.  I recently started using leeks in various recipes, such as Salmon with Caramelized Leeks and Carrots and Mushroom Risotto, and I always felt it was such a waste to just throw away the leek tops.

I started looking for ways to use them, and most suggest using them for fortifying stock, which… well… seemed a bit dull.  I stumbled across this more exciting Leek Mac & Cheese recipe from the Food & Wine website and decided to give it a go.  We had tons of leftover random cheeses from our Thanksgiving Eve Dinner so it was a great “make use of leftovers” dinner!  The results were quite delicious, and the leeks helped it feel a lot healthier and less dense than most mac & cheeses I have tried.

For a full meal, we started with a light Baby Greens with Lemon Vinaigrette and Zucchini Blossoms Stuffed with Tomatoes and Parmesan, then served up the yummy Leek Tops Mac & Cheese with a side of crusty Garlic Bread.

Leek Tops Mac and Cheese (adapted from Food & Wine’s Grace Parisi)

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hr
Yields: 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • 1 bunch leek greens (from 1 1/2 lbs of leeks), thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 3 T all-purpose flour
  • 3 C half-and-half or whole milk
  • 10 oz Manchego cheese, shredded (2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • 1 C bread crumbs

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Melt 2 T butter in a large skillet.  Add the leeks and cook over high heat, stirring just until slightly wilted, 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper.  Cook over low heat until very tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.  Add the flour and cook over moderately high heat, whisking, for 2 minutes.

Add the milk and bring to a boil, whisking until thickened, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Add 2 C cheese, season with salt and pepper and whisk the cheese sauce until melted.

In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the macaroni until nearly al dente.  Drain well.  Add the macaroni and the cheese sauce to the leek greens and stir until combined.

Transfer the macaroni to an 8-by-11-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 C cheese and bread crumbs.  Bake for about 40 minutes, until bubbling.  Turn the broiler on and broil the mac and cheese until golden brown on top, about 3 minutes.  Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

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