< class="entry-title">“Mac”-n-cheese with Peas and Ham

Macaroni and cheese – comfort food at its best. This is our take on it – no bread crumb topping, cavatappi rather than macaroni, made on the stovetop with peas and ham, but without the ubiquitous blue box. And, no, your kids won’t even miss it.

“Macaroni” and Cheese with Peas and Ham
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s New Best Recipes
Serves 6-8 as a main dish (usually 2 meals for us), 10-12 as a side dish. Can easily be halved.

  • 1 lb. cavatappi (De Cecco brand)
  • kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 5 cups milk (skim, 2%, or whole all work fine – we usually use skim)
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) Monterey Jack cheese, freshly grated (don’t use the preshredded stuff)
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) white or yellow extra sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated (again, don’t give into temptation – grate it yourself, you’ll be glad you did!)
  • 1 pound bag of frozen peas (no need to defrost) and/or broccoli or spinach
  • 8 ounces of baked deli ham, sliced thick and cut into cubes
  • Tabasco sauce, for sprinkling at table (try it!)

In a Dutch oven, boil cavatappi until just past “al dente”, being sure to really salt the water. Drain and set aside.

In the now empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta, peas, and ham and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes. Serve with Tabasco if desired.

To reheat: Warm gently on stovetop and add milk as needed to get sauce creamy again.

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