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
A Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley or from Long Island, New York is delightful with this hearty pasta.
Mac and cheese with braised leeks, asiago and parmesan breadcrumbs
active time: 1 hr
For the leeks
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 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
- 4 large garlic cloves – skinned and finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon dried red chili pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup white wine
For the béchamel
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
- 6 cups milk – warmed
- 1 cup heavy cream
- freshly ground nutmeg to taste (use a microplane grater)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 8 oz (225 g) Asiago – coarsely grated (2 cups)
For the breadcrumbs
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup finely grated Reggiano Parmesan
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the pasta
- 1 tablespoon sea salt (for the pasta water)
- 1 lb (455 g) pennette lisce or macaroni
- 1 medium (15″ x 10″) ceramic or glass baking dish – buttered
- 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.
- 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.
- Step 3: Place the breadcrumbs and parmesan in a small bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190ºC).
- 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.
- 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.
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I have a slight obsession with leeks – this is next up on my list! This sounds absolutely heavenly. Drooling already!
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!
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??
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!
Omigoodness that looks so perfect and amazing and flavorful!
This mac n cheese sounds so good!
Very nice mouthwatering dish. I shall try that immediately to night, but I shall add some black olive slices to it
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.
Pasta, cheese and leeks are three of my absolute favourite foods ever – so this looks INCREDIBLE!
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!
this looks like an absolutely amazing verison of mac and cheese…wow!
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.
Oh wow, this looks so, so delicious and indulgent! 🙂 Braised leeks sound like a fantastic addition to mac and cheese, brilliant idea 🙂
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 😀
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!
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I just luv that you used a bechamel and asiago. This is a sophisticated, gourmet version of mac and cheese!
This is a wonderful grown-up mac and cheese! Love the leeks and asiago!
Wow, that’s an incredible mac ‘n cheese recipe! Thank you for sharing it!
Macaroni and Cheese reinvented and moved up to the top of my list with leeks!
buonissimo, a questa ora poi sarebbe il massimo.
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!!
V, can we have this tonight???
The leeks are perfect. They add a nice flavor without overpowering. Great idea!
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!
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.
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.
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 😉
Oh my, this looks delicious! Makes me realize I haven’t made mac n cheese in far too long!
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.
This sounds like a beautiful mac and cheese! Braised leeks is a delicious addition.
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!
so many mac-n-cheese recipes lately, this one is outstanding… love everything about it
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?
Oh my God, that looks so good. Can’t wait to try!
This recipe on this day is exactly what I’m craving.
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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!
ooh, lovely and rich! I really have been craving mac n’ cheese and this just makes the craving that much stronger!
Shame on me for reading your blog before lunch! I may have to make this for my hubby – he loves asiago!
This is no ordinary mac and cheese. These is a five star mac and cheese.
Viviane, this mac and cheese is gourmet at it’s finest! You’ve made a comfort food so divine!
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!
You’ve arrived at my all-time-favorite comfort food. Can’t wait to try it this way.
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!
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.
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.
This looks amazing! I’ve never put leeks in macaroni and cheese before, but now I want to try it. Thanks for the recipe!