Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Orecchiette Au Gratin with Farm-Fresh Corn, Leeks, and Sage

OK, we are deep into cooking fresh from the garden, and recently I made orecchiette au gratin withe farm-fresh corn, leeks, and sage.  (Feel free to call it "mac and cheese with corn" if you have a picky eater; otherwise, with the other title, you can charge $12 a plate for it!)

This is a great way to use some of the fresh corn from the farmer's market as well as the leeks that are starting to be ready.  The introduction of the veggies means that you get to use less cheese, making it a lighter and less expensive dish.  I did splurge on orecchiette pasta; literally meaning "little ears," these shapes are the perfect little bowls to hold the cheese sauce and corn while you eat.  If you are seriously on a budget, try for a corkscrew or medium shell, which will do the same thing.

Orecchiette Au Gratin with Farm-Fresh Corn, Leeks, and Sage
2-3 ears corn, cut from the cob
1-2 small leeks, cut and "split" so the little rings come apart
1 box orecchiette
1.5 cups whole milk
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 T flour
2 T sage
3/4 cup stuffing mix

Blanch your corn and cut off the cob while you are dicing leeks and boiling pasta to the al dente stage.  Meanwhile, make your cheese sauce:

Melt cheese in milk over low heat.  Add sage.  2 T is a lot, and I use that much because my family likes it, and because I have a surplus of dried sage from the garden.  You may want to start with 1 T and work your way up if you are unsure.  One note is that the sage gives "mac n cheese" dishes a very meaty flavor, so this is a good option if you are trying to coax a meat eater to join you in a vegetarian meal.  Right before assembling the dish, add the flour for thickening and stir until thick and smooth.

Combine pasta, veggies, and cheese sauce in a casserole dish.  Top with a crushed handful (about 3/4 cup) of stuffing mix.  (You can use bread crumbs or cracker crumbs if you prefer, but I find many store brands of bread crumbs have HFCS.  Make your own if you prefer, or use stuffing mix for a bit of an herby kick to the topping.)

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly.

The Analysis

Fast:  You should be able to put this vegetarian meal on the table in under an hour, with much of it being cooking time.

Cheap:  Garden and farmer's market veggies and a crumb toppping mean you have to use less expensive cheese than you do for straight "mac n cheese."  Cut costs further by not being seduced by the specialty pasta shapes, as I was!
Good:  This has a gentle herb flavor and some crunch from the corn, leeks, and topping.  It is a nice change from the heavier pasta dishes and makes a ton! (About 5 servings, I would estimate.)
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