Tis the season for the rich, comforting pasta bake. It’s cold and gray, but not so much frigid winter as that doleful in-between.
I still want the warmth and comfort of cozy, hearty food, but I am growing tired of winter greens and roots and the spring bounty hasn’t sprung yet. I’ve souped and stewed, and I have depleted my stock of frozen-in-summer vegetables. So it’s time to get creative with the comfort food.
This is an ingenious take on macaroni and cheese – an all-in-one supper with a twist. Ribbons and flavorful pastrami and cheese tossed in a creamy, mustardy sauce with the added hit of flavor in toasty rye breadcrumbs. I like to stir the grated cheese through the pasta, rather than adding it to the sauce so you get nice melty, gooey pockets of cheese throughout. Look out for a good, well seasoned pastrami at your favorite deli counter.
Pastrami on rye pasta bake
12 ounces campanelle pasta, or other frilly shape like bow ties or fusilli
4 ounces thin sliced deli pastrami
3 green onions, white and light green parts only
8 ounces gouda cheese
8 ounces swiss cheese
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken broth
4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon stone-ground grainy mustard
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
3 slices rye bread
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Bring a Dutch oven full of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than the package recommends. When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander, briefly rinse under cold water, and toss with 1 tablespoon of the butter to prevent sticking.
2. While the pasta is boiling, dice the pastrami in to small pieces. Shuffle through the pieces so they don’t stick together. Dice the green onions finely. Grate the gouda and swiss cheeses and toss together in a bowl. Measure out 1 cup of the cheeses and set aside.
3. Combine the milk and the chicken broth in a 4-cup measuring jug and heat in the microwave for 90 seconds until it is just warm. (You can also do this in a saucepan.) This will help keep the sauce smooth and lump-free. Wipe out the pasta pot and return it to medium high heat. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, then whisk in the flour until you have a smooth, pale paste. Gradually add the milk mixture, stirring constantly, and cook until the sauce thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon. Whisk in the mustards and mustard powder until smooth and incorporated. Take the pot off the heat and stir in the pasta, pastrami, and green onions. Stir well to make sure the pastrami is evenly distributed and not sticking together in clumps. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed (this will depend on the pastrami you are using, so make sure to get some in your tasting bite). Leave the pasta to cool for about 5 minutes.
4. While the pasta sits, put the rye bread into a food processor (a mini is fine) and pulse until you have fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and process until combined.
5. Stir the bulk of the cheese into the slightly cooled pasta to distribute it evenly. Spread the pasta in a well-greased 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved cup of cheese over the top, spreading out evenly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the cheese, spreading to make an even layer, and lightly pressing it into the top of the dish.
6. At this point, the casserole can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to a day. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and bake until hot through, bubbly around the edges, and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Related post from the The Runaway Spoon: Buttermilk bacon cheddar macaroni salad