I’m finally posting this delicious mac n cheese recipe on my blog. I created this recipe for Food52’s recipe contest called “Your Best Fresh Herbs” and it was chosen as a Community Pick back in June! Yes, I know… that was kinda a while ago. If you live in a particularly chilly region of the world, I do not expect anybody to have fresh mint and basil in their backyard right now (it’s winter right now in CA!) However, if you do want to try this recipe, you can replace the fresh herbs with some store-bought pesto. It’ll be just as good… but you’ll have to try the recipe again once basil and mint are back in action. Below is my spiel on how the recipe came about… Enjoy!
You know that scene in “Ratatouille” where Anton is vividly transported to his childhood because of the ratatouille dish? I lived that same moment when I tried “Spring Mac” at Homeroom in Oakland, CA. After my first bite, I relived my childhood all over again: I was plucked from my seat and thrown amongst fields of pungent lemon trees and fragrant herbs. After all, who didn’t roll around in aromatic scenery as a child? Anybody?
Homeroom specializes in mac n cheese, and I knew I had to try to recreate this dish after having it. With no recipe to start from, I only remember the dish had aged asiago cheese, fresh herbs, lemon, and peas. Mint and lemon were pronounced flavors in this dish that I can still taste the brightness lingering in my mouth. This dish works so well — I’m so excited to share it with everybody! Mint, lemon, cheese, and peas are the bee’s knees!
Bright ‘n Zesty Mac n Cheese
Total time: 25 minutes
Prep: 5 min
Cook: 20 min
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 pound cavatappi pasta (or other elbow macaroni pasta)
1 cup frozen peas
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 cups grated medium white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated aged asiago cheese
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sweet basil leaves, plus more for garnish
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Then add frozen peas into pot to cook them quickly for no more than 2 minutes. Drain pasta and peas together and do not rinse with water.
In a pot over medium-high heat, heat butter until melted. While whisking constantly, add flour to form a smooth paste. Cook butter and flour together for about 2 minutes. While still whisking, pour in milk and mix until paste is thoroughly dissolved in milk. Allow milk to heat up and begin to simmer gently for about 5 minutes, just until sauce begins to thicken and coat the back of a wooden spoon. Adjust heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer gently for about 1 minute. While continuing to whisk, add white cheddar and asiago cheeses, handful by handful, so they melt evenly and slowly. After all cheese is added, mix in lemon juice, zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, chopped mint, chopped parsley, and chopped basil. Adjust sauce for seasoning.
Add in drained pasta and peas and fold with cheese sauce until pasta is evenly coated. Serve immediately, with additional chopped herbs on top and a slice of lemon.