Mac and cheese with braised leeks, asiago and parmesan breadcrumbs

Mac and cheese with braised leeks, asiago and parmesan breadcrumbs

The first time I tasted macaroni and cheese, I was well into my twenties. The experience was entirely new — and entirely pleasing. How could it not be? After all, pasta and cheese is one of those superb pairings that delight just about everyone, regardless of their age, gender or background.

But if you were raised in a French household like I was, your only experience of pasta (“les nouilles”), would have been of limp, overcooked noodles tossed with a little butter and served alongside a steak — a far cry from the luscious mixture of creamy cheeses and macaroni that Kraft turned into an icon in 1937 with the “Kraft Dinner.”

Needless to say, I was eager to adopt my new homeland’s favorite comfort food as my own. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I adore all cheeses, regardless of how stinky, how aged or how moldy they might be!

This recipe is a bridge between my French heritage and my adopted country. The leek is a very prominent vegetable in French cooking and when braised it loses its spunk and turns mellow and sweet. Pair it with a slightly tangy Asiago and you have a mac & cheese that will make you come back for seconds, even if your stomach screams it’s full.

Food & wine pairing: Loire Valley, Cabernet Franc with braised leek and asiago mac & cheese

Red wine icon
A Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley or from Long Island, New York is delightful with this hearty pasta.



Leeks at the farmer's market

Mac and cheese with braised leeks, asiago and parmesan breadcrumbs

serves 8
active time: 1 hr

For the leeks

  1. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  2. 4 leeks – 4″ of tops and roots trimmed (1 1/2 lbs) (680 g), cut in half lengthwise, thoroughly washed and cut in 1/4″ slices
  3. 4 large garlic cloves – skinned and finely chopped
  4. 1/4 teaspoon dried red chili pepper flakes
  5. 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  6. freshly ground black pepper to taste
  7. 3/4 cup white wine

For the béchamel

  1. 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  2. 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  3. 6 cups milk – warmed
  4. 1 cup heavy cream
  5. freshly ground nutmeg to taste (use a microplane grater)
  6. 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  7. freshly ground black pepper to taste
  8. 8 oz (225 g) Asiago – coarsely grated (2 cups)

For the breadcrumbs

  1. 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  2. 1/2 cup finely grated Reggiano Parmesan
  3. 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the pasta

  1. 1 tablespoon sea salt (for the pasta water)
  2. 1 lb (455 g) pennette lisce or macaroni
  1. 1 medium (15″ x 10″) ceramic or glass baking dish – buttered

  1. Step 1: To braise the leeks – Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and leeks. Toss well and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes until leeks have wilted and just begin to take on a golden color, tossing from time to time. Add the garlic, chili pepper flakes, salt, black pepper and wine. Quickly toss, reduce heat to medium-low and cover pan. Braise leeks for 25 minutes until very tender and all the juices have evaporated (if there is still some liquid in the pan after braising the leeks for 25 minutes, sauté at high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until all juices have evaporated). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  2. Step 2: To make the béchamel – Place the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as the butter is melted, whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture becomes foamy and the flour becomes golden, but not brown. Quickly whisk in the warm milk and cream. While constantly whisking, bring back to a boil. As soon as it reaches boiling point, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes until the béchamel has slightly thickened, still whisking constantly. Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper and grated cheese. Whisk until the cheese has melted and remove from heat.
  3. Step 3: Place the breadcrumbs and parmesan in a small bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well. Set aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°F (190ºC).
  5. Step 4: Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the salt and the pasta. Cook the pasta about 2 minutes less than the package instructions so that it’s not cooked all the way through (see picture below). Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Add the leeks and béchamel to the pasta and stir until well blended. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until bubbly on the sides and golden. Remove from oven and heat the broiler on high. Place the mac & cheese under the broiler for a few seconds to brown the breadcrumbs. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
  6. Cook’s note: The mac & cheese is best eaten as soon as it’s made. Reheating will make it stodgy. The braised leeks can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. The béchamel can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Gently reheat it over medium-low heat and thin with a little milk before using in the recipe. Boil the pasta, assemble and bake the mac & cheese just before serving.

Mac and cheese with braised leeks, asiago and parmesan breadcrumbs

pasta, mac and cheese, leeks

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51 Comments

  • Reply Leigh October 30, 2012 at 11:42 am

    I have a slight obsession with leeks – this is next up on my list! This sounds absolutely heavenly. Drooling already!

    • Reply Viviane October 31, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      Leigh, thank you for your comment. I adore leeks too… It’s making me think I need to publish many more recipes with leeks on this site!

  • Reply Pamela Archambault March 26, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Hi Viviane!
    Thanks for getting back to me regarding my comment on the Caesar Salad. The Mac and Cheese was wonderful…I love the white wine and leek combo with the asiago cheese and that hint of red pepper to give it a little ‘kick’. Everyone raved about it. Am wanting to try your chocolate cake recipe but am looking for a good but not too expensive cake leveler, do you have any suggestions??

    • Reply Viviane March 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm

      Hi Pamela! I’m SO delighted you and your friends liked the Mac & Cheese. I haven’t made this recipe in a while… You’re making me think I need to make it very soon! It the recipe for the chocolate layer cake, you will find a link for a cake leveler. Here it is again http://www.wilton.com/store/site/product.cfm?id=3E30D67E-475A-BAC0-5792C543763E855E You should be able to find this at any cooking specialty store near you. Let me know if you need more info. Happy baking!

  • Reply Kayle (The Cooking Actress) March 18, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Omigoodness that looks so perfect and amazing and flavorful!

  • Reply Kevin (Closet Cooking) March 13, 2012 at 6:58 am

    This mac n cheese sounds so good!

  • Reply Moustafa Awad March 11, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Very nice mouthwatering dish. I shall try that immediately to night, but I shall add some black olive slices to it

  • Reply Kim Bee March 11, 2012 at 12:11 am

    I have to admit I’ve never been a fan of mac n cheese but this is seriously enticing. I think you may have just changed my stance on it. This is serious grown up mac n cheese.

  • Reply Becca @ Amuse Your Bouche March 9, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Pasta, cheese and leeks are three of my absolute favourite foods ever – so this looks INCREDIBLE!

  • Reply Lacy @ NYCityEats March 9, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Wht a great idea to pair leeks with ream cheese! This sounds incredibly delicious. Your pictures are gorgeous. I’m defintiely trying this – there is not one thing I would change. Delicious!

  • Reply Jenn and Seth (@HomeSkilletCook) March 9, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    this looks like an absolutely amazing verison of mac and cheese…wow!

  • Reply Suzi March 9, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Viviane this is a wonderful transformation of the old classic. I love the braised leeks and red pepper. Sounds wonderful and Congrats on the Top 9 for the fabulous beet dish. Have a wonderful weekend.

  • Reply Kiri W. March 9, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Oh wow, this looks so, so delicious and indulgent! :) Braised leeks sound like a fantastic addition to mac and cheese, brilliant idea :)

  • Reply Joseph Penzey September 4, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    the broil time should be more like four minutes. when i did it the crumbs on top were a bit burned. other than that its great :D

    • Reply Viviane September 4, 2011 at 7:43 pm

      Hi Joseph! Thank you so much for your comment. The recipe calls for broiling the mac & cheese for only a few seconds… a few minutes is too much. I’m really glad that you liked the recipe… Asides from the burnt crumbs!!! With fall coming, I’ll be the mood to make this recipe myself very soon… Happy cooking to you!

  • Reply Cristina January 21, 2011 at 12:19 am

    I just luv that you used a bechamel and asiago. This is a sophisticated, gourmet version of mac and cheese!

  • Reply Belinda @zomppa January 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    This is a wonderful grown-up mac and cheese! Love the leeks and asiago!

  • Reply Kate @ Diethood.com January 11, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Wow, that’s an incredible mac ‘n cheese recipe! Thank you for sharing it!

  • Reply Debi (Table Talk) January 11, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Macaroni and Cheese reinvented and moved up to the top of my list with leeks!

  • Reply andrea June 1, 2010 at 7:02 am

    buonissimo, a questa ora poi sarebbe il massimo.

  • Reply Ashley February 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Mmm love mac & cheese in all its incarnations! And this one looks especially delicious with one of my favourite cheeses and the addition of braised leeks, yum!!

  • Reply Marc Farre January 29, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    V, can we have this tonight???

  • Reply duodishes January 28, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    The leeks are perfect. They add a nice flavor without overpowering. Great idea!

  • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre January 28, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Claudia,
    I bought the Asiago from Fairway Market in NYC http://www.fairwaymarket.com/. As it was one of their bulk items, the label didn’t tell me the name of the farmer in WI… But it had a lovely, mild and nutty flavor.

    Sue, I suppose you could make the béchamel with soy milk or other lactose-free milk. As for the goat cheese, I think it would be superb with the leeks! If you give the recipe a try, with these two changes, do stop by and tell us all about it here. I’d love to hear!

    Thank you all for your comments – I am so grateful for every word!

  • Reply Claudia January 28, 2010 at 10:05 am

    This is amaing – I am looking for a from-scratch recipe for mac n’ cheese. Whose cheeses did you use from WI? They have some very good ones.

  • Reply Janice January 28, 2010 at 3:13 am

    I’ve never had this dish with leeks before, must be delicious. I don’t think I’ve used asiago before, I’ll have to try that next time. I always use parmesan, cheddar, and blue cheese.

  • Reply foododelmundo January 27, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    This is MUCH too elegant to call Mac & Cheese.
    I am NOT a fan of Mac & Chz (ate it too much in college).
    But I am a fan of a beautiful pasta dish such as this ;-)
    ~Mary

  • Reply Dacia January 27, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Oh my, this looks delicious! Makes me realize I haven’t made mac n cheese in far too long!

  • Reply Fuji Mama January 27, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    This looks absolutely divine! I fell in love with leeks while living in Paris, so I love that you included them in this! I think this would be gone in about 4 seconds flat at my house.

  • Reply lisaiscooking January 27, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    This sounds like a beautiful mac and cheese! Braised leeks is a delicious addition.

  • Reply Shelly Huang January 27, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    This is one pot of cheesy goodness! I love the idea of leeks – it’s one of my favorite things to cook with. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Drick January 27, 2010 at 9:37 am

    so many mac-n-cheese recipes lately, this one is outstanding… love everything about it

  • Reply sue schuetz January 26, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    hi viviane: i rec’d your mac’n cheese recipe from my friend lili jacobs.

    while macaroni & cheese is one of my all time favorite comfort foods, i rarely eat it now because of lactose problems.

    i do love goat cheese, fortunately, and found at trader joe’s a lovely imported-from-holland gouda-type goat cheese. have you made mac ‘n cheese with goat cheese?

    thanks

    sue

  • Reply mary lynn January 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Oh my God, that looks so good. Can’t wait to try!

  • Reply Tracy (Amuse-bouche for Two) January 26, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    This recipe on this day is exactly what I’m craving.

  • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre January 25, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you all for your wonderful comments! As always you just warm my heart… And I am so thrilled to see that so many of you love leeks! They’re a very underrated but very noble veggie!

  • Reply wasabi prime January 25, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    ooh, lovely and rich! I really have been craving mac n’ cheese and this just makes the craving that much stronger!

  • Reply Jen January 25, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Shame on me for reading your blog before lunch! I may have to make this for my hubby – he loves asiago!

  • Reply Divina January 25, 2010 at 7:51 am

    This is no ordinary mac and cheese. These is a five star mac and cheese.

  • Reply Christine @ Fresh Local and Best January 24, 2010 at 1:11 am

    Viviane, this mac and cheese is gourmet at it’s finest! You’ve made a comfort food so divine!

  • Reply Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite January 23, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    Viviane this is simply a masterpiece! I love mac and cheese but this is truly something else – you’ve elevated it to a “gourmet” level!

  • Reply StreamingGourmet (Amy Wilson) January 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    You’ve arrived at my all-time-favorite comfort food. Can’t wait to try it this way.

  • Reply Katie @ goodLife {eats} January 23, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    This looks incredible! I love leeks so much and they are not often on sale, so I’m contemplating planting them in my garden this year. You really took mac n cheese to the next level!

  • Reply Dana Treat January 23, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    The leek is such an under appreciated vegetable in this country – I love them so much! What an incredibly delicious version of an already delicious dish! I like mac and cheese, but I always feel like I’d like more variety within the dish. Leeks are a perfect answer.

  • Reply Ben Simons January 23, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    This is a great spin on mac and cheese. My wife made a really good version of this dish last week that was along the same lines. We will have to try this version soon.

  • Reply Jeanne January 23, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    This looks amazing! I’ve never put leeks in macaroni and cheese before, but now I want to try it. Thanks for the recipe!

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