winter mac with ancient grain pasta


I made this guy for a potluck with friends right before the holidays. I asked Liz if she had any requests, and the only thing she brought up was asparagus. So, asparagus it was! I had bought these little ancient grain elbow pasta made with quinoa, amaranth, and brown rice and planned to make a fancy mac n' cheese with them. There it was: mac n' cheese with asparagus, tomato, shallot, bechamel, mozzarella, and smoked Gouda - all topped with yummy panko crumbs and baked in the oven. 

I do want to talk about the pasta for a minute. We all know that sugary white carbs such as white bread and regular pasta are no bueno when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. I am an Italian girl though, and completely cutting out pasta is like a life without love. I've tried whole wheat, but found that it really only works well in spaghetti or linguini form. When it's used to make a denser pasta like orichette, fusilli, or elbows the texture is too tough and hard. So I've gotten to experimenting with the other options at Wholefoods, and these guys made with ancient grains are really good! 

What is an ancient grain you ask? Well, basically we're talking about the other grains besides wheat that have been around forever. This pasta is made with amaranth, quinoa, and brown rice, but other ancient grains would be types like millet, spelt, and kamut. They're packed with protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, and are also great for those with wheat allergies or a gluten intolerance. With the mass production of wheat we forgot about these ancient grains for a while, but now that we're realizing that wheat might not be all it's cracked up to be, we're seeing a resurgence in their popularity. 

Beware, they do behave differently when cooking with them, however. If making bread or dough, they contain less or no gluten and will require a replacement binding agent. In products that are already made for you, like these pasta, you're good to go. Boil until cooked and rejoice in the "just like pasta" texture. 

 Ingredients (serves 5):
4oz. Fresh Mozzarella, broken up into chunks
1/4lb. Smoked Gouda, shredded
1 Cup Skim Milk
1 Cup Light Cream
1/3 Cup Flour
15 Asparagus Stems, chopped into medium sized pieces
20 Cherry Tomatoes, halved
4 Shallots, sliced
3 Small Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Butter
3/4 Cup Seasoned Panko Crumbs
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Put your pasta on to boil and cook until they are still a little aldente
3. Melt butter down in a large saucepan, and then add shallots and asparagus to saute.
4. After 5 minutes add flour, skim milk, and light cream. Using a whisk, keep stirring.
5. Add garlic and tomatoes, then cook down until the milk and cream reach a thick bechamel consistency.
6. In a large bowl, mix pasta, cheeses, vegetable/bechamel mixture, and salt & pepper. Then transfer to a medium-sized casserole dish. 
7. Top mac n' cheese with panko crumbs, and then bake for about 20-25 minutes or until nicely browned on top.

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