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    Baked Ditalini and Cheese

    There is nothing more comforting than a plate of “Mac and Cheese” well at least where I’m concerned. I was looking to update this old favorite adding a little twist to the standard dish. Finding the right mix of cheeses can be daunting specially when it comes to cheddar cheese as it tends to be oily when baked. I’ve found that Kerrygold Cheddar worked perfectly along with BelGioioso Gorgonzola and Mozzarella make for a great taste sensation. Instead of the usual elbow macaroni I used Ditalini for an added twist.

    You will need:

    Ditalini — One pound, dry.
    Milk — One quart. I used a 3 to 1 mix of milk and half and half but milk alone will do just fine. I wouldn’t add cream since it tends to make too rich and somewhat off putting.
    Flour — ¼ cup
    Butter (unsalted)— 5 TBSP
    Salt— 2 tsp
    You will be using the above 4 items to make a Bacic Bechamel Sauce
    Gorgonzola Cheese — 6 oz. crumbled
    Mozzarella Cheese — 6 oz. shredded
    Cheddar Cheese — 6 oz. shredded
    Bread Crumbs — 1 cup (I used Panko)
    Parmesan Cheese — ¼ cup shredded.

    In a large stock pot add at least 2 quarts of water, bring to a boil and add the pasta, cook according to package instructions. While the pasta cooks prepare the Bechamel. Once it starts to thicken incorporate the cheeses, one at a time, stirring at each addition until the cheese melts. Drain the pasta, do not rinse, fold the cooked pasta into the Bechamel/Cheese sauce until completely combined.

    Lightly butter a 9 x 13 baking dish/casserole, combine Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs, pour the cheese mixture into the casserole dish and spread it out to an even thickness. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan/Panko mixture. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes, uncover and continue to back until the topping is a golden brown. Enjoy!

    Baked Ditalini

    I had a half empty or is it half full box of ditalini sitting on the shelf where I keep all sorts of pasta extruded pastas. I decided to use it for dinner and went to the freezer where I knew I had left over sausage and mushroom ragu thinking to bake some sort of baked item and all I was missing was the cheese. I walked to my nearest grocer, not my favorite but didn’t feel like getting in the car for only a couple of items. They DO have a nice cheese department and decided to get some ricotta, parmesan, asiago and romano as all of them work well in baked goods.

    When I got home I realized that after opening the container I had purchased Ricotta con Latte instead of Ricotta. I had never used it but seeing the creaminess of the cheese I thought it would work. The end result came out pretty good and I think you and especially your kids will find it well worth the effort

    You will need:

    Ditalini &#151 1 pound
    Ricotta Con Latte — 1 16 oz container.
    Sausage/Mushroom Ragu — you can substitute 1 LB ground beef or pork and tomato sauce just sauté the meat and combine with the tomato sauce.

    Prepare the ditalini according to package instructions, strain but do not rinse. Return pot to heat and add the ragu or meat/tomato sauce mixture and heat until thoroughly warmed, remove from heat. Add the ricotta to the mixture and combine completely then add the pasta and combine thoroughly. Place mixture into a lightly oiled, oven proof baking dish, cover and bake for 30 minutes. I think you will enjoy the finished product.

    Ditalini al Forno con Molti Formaggi

    If you are a cheese lover, as am I, one might assume that you have some, what I call, “cheese nubs” sitting in your refrigerator. If you don’t have any nubs not to worry, you can purchase a variety of cheeses at your favorite retailer. Since most of mine melt easily I decided to play around with that traditional macaroni and cheese. This recipe is still evolving so come back to see what transpires.

    You will need:

    Assorted cheese nubs – 4 cups total – amount of each depends on which of the cheeses being used you wish to highlight. I used grated aged cheddar, white cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, romano, parmesan and asiago I thought about adding some bleu cheese but held off since some folk might not like the taste of a good bleu.

    Ditalini 1/2 lb. – a nice replacement for the traditional elbow.

    Bechamel – 4 cups – you can search for a good recipe there are many on the internet.
    Hot sauce – optional
    Bread crumbs – two cups – I used Panko style they seem to work the best.
    Olive Oil – enough to coat the bread crumbs.

    In a pot large enough to hold the pasta bring 3 or 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil, once the water is boiling add 3 or 4 TBSP salt add the dry pasta and cook until just under al denté. Meanwhile bring the Bechamel up to heat, and add the cheeses stirring after each addition. Continue stirring until all the cheese is thoroughly melted and combined, reserve one cup. Drain pasta, reserving one cup of the cooking water, add pasta to cheese sauce stirring as added, stir until well combined. If the mixture looks too dry add more of the cheese sauce and water. It should be creamy as it will set once it is baked. Thoroughly butter an oven proof baking dish, 9 x 13 works well, pour cheese mixture into dish, combine olive oil and panko then sprinkle over top of cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.

    I like my Mac and Cheese on the denser side, if you want a creamier consistency add some heavy cream to the cheese sauce.

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