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Creamy macaroni and cheese with country ham and leeks

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The Runaway Spoon

(Read caption) Creamy macaroni and cheese with country ham and leeks.

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From the first time I made macaroni and cheese, I’ve used this basic recipe, with the sauce you simply stir up.  We were not a big macaroni and cheese family, and never had any version from the box until college, when the hot pot was our main cooking apparatus and I had an ingenious roommate. 

I think I might have originally found the recipe in a kids’ cookbook, but I don’t really remember. The recipe served me well for years, particularly in a poorly equipped kitchen in graduate school. And I just thought this was how mac and cheese was made. It was years before I learned that most macaroni and cheese recipes start with a roux made into a cream sauce.

As I progressed in the kitchen, I started working on recipes made with béchamel sauce, white wine based sauces, an onion soubise, exotic cheeses and the like. But for simple meals, I always came back to this method. And I’ve really decided I like it better. It’s very creamy, very cheesy, and of course could not be simpler. So now I make it with cheese only, or flavorful add-ins.

This version is my favorite, and based on a macaroni and cheese served at a favorite restaurant.  I am sure they use a great more expertise and skill in making it, but I manage to get the flavors I love spot-on. I like corkscrew-y cavatappi pasta, but regular macaroni, or shells, or farfalle work equally well.  Once you have this simple, basic recipe down, you can alter it however you please – with different cheeses, added spices, bacon or roasted chicken … the possibilities are endless.

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese with Country Ham and Leeks
Serves 6, 8 as a side dish 

4 leeks
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup white wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine or chicken broth of the same amount]
8 ounces uncookedelbow macaroni or cavatappi noodles
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces white cheddar cheese
4 ounces fontina cheese
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
8 ounces country ham, finely diced


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