The Winning Casserole: Cheese Love

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As I hoped, your prodding inspired the Casserole Contest winners, Zack and Graham (pictured above with Emily) to share their recipe. Zack implores: “I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the Bobolink cheddar in this recipe. It is generally only available directly from the farmer/cheesemaker and I know that it is expensive when compared to industrial cheeses, but I have tried making this without the Bobolink and it doesn’t come close in flavor, aroma or texture. Bobolink sells their cheeses at the Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays (check cowsoutside.com for other market locations).”

Just to restate my enthusiasm for this casserole, I tasted almost 20 casseroles that night and this one was not only far and away the best, it made a casserole convert out of me. I plan to try this recipe immediately. Click ahead to unlock the mystery of “Cheese Love”….

Macaroni and Bobolink Cheddar with Smoked Gouda, Kale and Mushrooms

1 lb rotini or gemelli pasta

4 c whole milk

10-11 tbs butter

6 tbs flour

3/4 tsp paprika

20 oz. Bobolink Cave-Ripened Cheddar, shredded

Approx. 10 oz. smoked gouda, rind removed, shredded

1 bunch kale, stems removed

1 lb shitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps quartered

Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

NOTE: Bobolink Cave-Ripened Cheddar is available from Bobolink Dairy at NYC-area farmers markets and at cowsoutside.com.

Saute mushrooms in 6-7 tbs butter over medium heat until they reduce significantly in volume. Continue cooking until they become golden brown. Turn down heat and cook until the mushrooms reduce further and become a darker brown. Remove from heat.

Cook pasta a few minutes less than al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water.

Blanch and shock the kale. Drain water from the leaves and chop them.

Heat the milk to a simmer in a large pot.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Toss the shredded cheeses together in a bowl.

Melt the remaining 4 tbs butter in a large heavy saucepan. Add the flour and whisk over low heat for about 5 min. Try not to let the flour butter mix brown. Remove from heat.

Add the hot milk to the flour mixture and whisk it in well. Add the paprika, season with salt and pepper to taste, and return to heat on medium, whisking constantly until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Begin to mix in the cheese one handful at a time. Add about two-thirds of the cheese to this mix, reserving about one third of cheese. Toss pasta, kale, and mushrooms into the mix and stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove from heat.

Butter a large casserole dish. Fill with pasta/cheese/vegetable mixture. Evenly top the mix with the remaining shredded cheeses. Sprinkle with pepper.

Bake until hot and a little bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes at 350.

Turn on the broiler and broil for about 3 to 5 minutes until the top becomes a sizzling-hot and deep golden brown color.

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