Northern Italian Asparagus Mac & Cheese


March 2010 Recipe Contest Winner Michael Cohen says about this dish "I really love asparagus, especially in the spring, but sometimes I want something a little "crazier" than just my standard roasted asparagus. So, I decided to mix asparagus with one of my other favorite things: Mac & Cheese! By utilizing all sorts of Northern Italian flavors, such as fontina cheese and smoked prosciutto, I found that I was able to create a perfect marriage between asparagus and Mac & Cheese. While asparagus is always great on it’s own with a little olive oil or butter, it’s also nice sometimes to use it as a flavor that complements all sorts of other ingredients."
1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
8 ounces cavatappi or elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons butter, divided use
4 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 cup shredded fontina cheese, divided use
3/4 cup shredded asiago cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided use
2 ounces speck (smoked prosciutto), minced (or substitute prosciutto)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, minced
2/3 cup toasted ciabatta bread crumbs (can substitute panko)
Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish
1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2 Prepare an ice bath. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil. Add asparagus to boiling water and cook for 30 seconds. Place asparagus in ice bath. Once asparagus is cool, dice asparagus.

3 Add pasta to boiling water and cook until just barely al dente (slightly undercooked). Drain.

4 In a large pot over low heat, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Add flour and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly for 3 minutes.

5 Increase the heat to medium, add in salt and pepper; with a wire whisk, gradually add the half-and-half. Bring to a boil while continuously stirring. Reduce heat, and then simmer for 1 minute.

6 Add 3/4 cup fontina cheese, asiago cheese, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, and garlic. Toss until cheese has melted.

7 Add pasta, prosciutto, and basil. Toss until well combined.

8 To make topping, melt a tablespoon butter. Combine breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup fontina cheese, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, and add melted butter. Stir until well combined.

9 Place pasta mixture into a lightly buttered 2-quart casserole dish (or place in individual serving dishes). Top with bread crumb topping.

10 Bake for 30 minutes (or 15-20 minutes for individual dishes), or until top is golden brown. Garnish with basil and serve.

servings  use metric
original recipe yield: 6 servings
Notes Makes 12 appetizer-sized servings.

If you use our recipes - please give foodie kitchen credit and link to