Mac and Cheese Shepherd's Pie Recipe
We've been experiencing rainy days in the Bay Area and I thought a little comfort food would warm us up. I couldn't decide between a shepherd's pie or mac and cheese, so I went for a combination of the two.
To keep the dish vegetarian, I prepared the bottom layer with a mixture of vegetarian protein crumble, tomatoes and onions; you could opt for regular ground beef if you prefer. Instead of topping the dish with mashed potatoes as you would in a standard shepherd's pie recipe, I added creamy mac and cheese. Needless to say, the richness of the dish was a huge hit even baby Aria asked for more!
Yields: 8 servings1 (16-ounce) package macaroni pasta, cooked
1 (12-ounce) package veggie protein crumbles (or ground beef)
1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 sprig thyme
¼ cup sweet basil leaves, chopped
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
4½ cups milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
½ teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground
½ cup Monterey Jack cheese, freshly grated
1½ cups mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
4 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Making the bottom layer sauce:
Heat about 2 tablespoons oil in a large pan. Add the onion and sprig of thyme and cook over low heat for about 8 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent the onion from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown. Increase the heat, add 2 cloves garlic and cook until lightly golden. Add the vegetarian protein crumble and separate the bits and pieces. Stir well; add honey and add both cans of tomatoes. Season with salt and red chili flakes. Lower the heat and let the flavors blend, stirring frequently. Add basil. Cover and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Discard the thyme if possible.
For the pasta: Cook according to package instructions. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still in shape and firm), reserve about ⅓ cup to ½ cup of pasta water and drain the pasta (do not rinse) into a large colander. Season with a little salt. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the pot used for the pasta. Return the pasta, add a small mound of butter and sauté for 1 minute. Turn off the heat.
For the béchamel sauce:
In a saucepan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter over medium-low until it's almost brown but you don't want the butter to burn. Add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter and form a paste. Stir until well incorporated and add the milk in 3 stages. Increase the heat; continue cooking, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat off. Add the cheeses (except reserve about ½ cup mozzarella cheese for the topping). Mix well. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let the sauce rest until it's time to assemble the dish. Pour half the amount of the sauce over the cooked pasta and mix well. Add more sauce until it's completely coated. You might have a bit of leftover sauce (you can store it in the freezer for future use).
Grease a large baking dish with the remaining butter (for easy clean up). Pour the tomato sauce into the bottom of the dish. Level the first layer with a spatula and fill with the creamy pasta. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella on top.
Place in the oven for at least 20 minutes (until golden crispy brown) and broil for about 2-3 minutes to get a nice golden crust if necessary.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes. Cut into 8 portions and serve warm.
I used a wide variety of cheeses; you could use other cheeses such as goat cheese, Gruyère, Asiago, Munster or even blue cheese.
To make béchamel sauce, I always start with all the ingredients at the same temperature, so make sure to heat the milk in the microwave for about 2 minutes (or in a saucepan), so it's warm. If you get lumpy pieces in the sauce, don't hesitate to use a hand blender.
Vegetarian protein crumble is available in the produce aisle of many supermarkets such as Safeway. The texture is very similar to ground beef.April 1, 2013.