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A smokey mac and cheese with some heat, three types of cheese and baby spinach.
Preheat the oven to 375°F and butter a 3.5-quart casserole dish or Dutch oven. Set aside.
Chop spinach in a processor until finely chopped (pulsing will give you better control by not turning it to mush), then set aside.
Slice the light green and white of the leek in half length-wise. Rinse the layers well to remove all grit. Now, slice the leek halves width-wise.
Heat the bacon fat in a large sauté pan on medium-low heat. Bacon fat adds some serious depth to the flavor combos going on here (it’s kind of like the “secret” ingredient). But not all of you will have bacon fat just lyin’ around. Olive oil would be fine, as well. But, next time you cook some bacon for breakfast, consider saving the drippings. It’s not the healthiest thing but since when is mac and cheese healthy, either? I say go all out when going all out is necessary.
Add the leek and garlic into the pan and sauté until the leek is soft, being careful not to brown the garlic, about 4 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and add the spinach. Cook until spinach is fully wilted and excess moisture has evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scoop the mixture into a bowl and set aside (scrape out the pan as best you can, so as not to interfere with the béchamel sauce that we’ll make next).
On medium heat, in the same sauté pan, make a roux by melting 4 tablespoons of butter then adding the flour, whisking together until combined and lightly bubbling. Add the milks gradually, whisking between each addition until smooth. Don’t panic if you see a lot of lumps, at first, and it almost resembles batter. It will smooth out, I promise! Once the lumps are gone, allow the mixture to bubble lightly—no hard boiling. The béchamel sauce will thicken shortly after about 1-2 minutes. Make sure that you keep constantly whisking.
Lower the heat to medium-low and add the cheeses gradually, allowing each batch to melt in between adding more. You are creating a mornay sauce. (If some of the gouda doesn’t melt completely, that is fine. It will melt in the oven.) Whisk in the chili sauce or paste.
Add the spinach and leek mixture and combine well. Season with more salt and pepper. Simmer on low for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover.
Cook the pasta according to the package directions. I prefer bringing water to a boil then salting the water with ½ tablespoon of salt per quart of water before adding the pasta. Cook the pasta for the lowest recommended time that the package mentioned. The pasta will continue to cook when the mac and cheese bakes in the oven.
Add the pasta shells into your souped-up mornay sauce. Combine well and pour into prepared baking dish.
In a food processor, process the sourdough bread into nice flaky crumbs. Pour into a small bowl.
Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and mix into the breadcrumbs, along with the parsley. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the mac and cheese and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.
Nancy is the Coupon Clipping Cook, which means she not only has an astounding number of recipes to share with us (her TK recipe box is busting at the seams!) but she's also got loads of money-saving tips in her blog (she worked at a grocery store for a number of years, so she knows her stuff). She has some pretty amazing creations, like Roasted Garlic Potato Soup and Nutty Coconut Chicken. Go check them out!
Heather is a Texas native and the blogger behind Heather's Dish. She's mom to Weston, wife to Nate, and they live in Little Rock, Arkansas with their two "stubborn and saucy" dogs Bunker and Keira. In her blog, she shares her photographs, random musings (serious and silly alike), and all kinds of scrumptious recipes---and not just evil variations of her favorite mac and cheese. Her enviable TK recipe box is a testament to that. Go see for yourself!