Jan 14, 2012

Baked Pasta with Kale and Mornay Sauce

I’ve shared before that I love homemade mac-n-cheese. So, whenever I see a new recipe for a variation I am immediately intrigued. However, I’ve also shared that the version of mac-n-cheese I grew up with was very different than the typical version that other kids enjoyed, which included the famous blue box mac-n-cheese. I’m not a fan of goopy or super cheesy dishes so I was always turned off from that. Because of that, I also make a clear distinction between what I call mac-n-cheese and pasta with a homemade cheese sauce. I guess some people would call this weird, but I like to think it’s just exact or precise!

This pasta dish would be placed in the pasta with homemade cheese sauce, but it’s so delicious and doesn’t leave me wishing I had my traditional mac-n-cheese instead. Now, I’m sure many people could look at this dish and say there is no place for green leaves in their pasta and cheese dish. To be honest, I had that thought myself UNTIL I tried a bite of this. The green leaves are actually kale and combined with the cheese sauce and pasta, they are really a welcome addition! If you’re a fan of baked kale chips, you’ll be an immediate fan and for those of you that are not, this may be a great way to introduce kale to your recipes. If you’re not familiar with kale, it’s less like spinach and more like swiss chard in that it’s a much sturdier leaf than spinach. When you cook spinach it gets limp and, in my opinion, kind of slimy. Kale is just the opposite!

Here is what you need:


(Adapted from The Kitchen Sink Recipes. Makes enough for two dinner portions and a smaller lunch portion.)

  • 1/2 pound rigatoni pasta
  • 1/2 pound kale (about one bunch)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Prepare you baking dish (I used an 8×8 inch square dish) by coating it with cooking spray, or butter if you prefer, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add your pasta. Let the pasta cook until it is almost al dente. While the pasta cooks, wash the kale and start chopping it up. You want to be sure to remove the stems from the kale because they really are not appetizing. The best way to do this is to lay the kale leaf out on the cutting board and cut along either edge of the thick stem. Once the stem is removed, you’ll be left with a giant leaf that resembles Mrs. PacMan! Roughly chop the kale leaves. Once the pasta is almost al dente, add the kale leaves to the boiling water and let them cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Drain the pasta and kale and then add it back to the pot you boiled everything in. Let this sit for a few minutes while you work on the homemade cheese sauce. For those of you that have never made cheese sauce from scratch, you’ll never want to go back to anything store bought! It’s so easy and the taste just can’t even compare! If you’re interested in the technical terms, it starts off with a B├ęchamel sauce and then once the cheese is added, it turns into a Mornay sauce. Start by melting the butter in a small pot over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour and then milk. Add the salt and pepper and then for extra flavor add the garlic clove, peeled but not chopped. Cover the pot but be sure to continue whisking frequently so that things don’t get too thick. You want to whisk until the sauce becomes thick enough that it can cover the back of a wooden spoon. Once you reach the right consistency, take the garlic clove out and whisk in the cheddar cheese until it is completely melted.

Pour the sauce over the pasta and kale in the larger pot.

Give everything a good mix and then transfer to the baking dish. For an extra touch, grate some fresh Parmesan cheese on top.

Bake the pasta dish for about 25-30 minutes until the cheese completely melts and turns golden brown. If you are a fan of the crunchy cheese bites of pasta, let it cook for a little longer.

Add a little more Parmesan to the plate when you serve and you are ready to eat! This is an easy dish, a fast dish and nothing short of delicious! All important factors when making dinner! Growing up, I think I tried to ask for mac-n-cheese at least once a week and I realize now that not everyone enjoys eating the same meal once a week. You need a little variety and I’m learning that even variety in your favorite dishes isn’t always a bad thing! For now, that’s baked pasta with kale and mornay sauce…in the shell of a nut!

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