Recipe 2: Pesto Mac and Goat Cheese

Confession time: I seriously love goat cheese.  Over pasta, in grilled cheese, in a salad, even in truffles – I can’t think of any application in which I’ve had it and didn’t like it.  There is something about the tangy creaminess of it that tickles my tastebuds.  So I was super-excited when I found this recipe to foist upon offer to my friend Jen when she came over for lunch and girl talk.  I made a half-recipe to cut down on leftovers.  I took some pictures, but right now my computer is having a nervous breakdown and won’t talk to my camera, so they will be up later.  Edit: They are now added!

Pesto Mac and Goat Cheese (from Food Network – I will have non-FN recipes, I promise)

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for baking dish
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs (yes, they make gluten-free panko)
  • 1 3/4 cups Parmesan cheese (this needs to be divided.  I made this mistake)
  • 1 pound mini pasta shells (I used quinoa “pagoda spirals” because there were no shells in the house)
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 16 ounces goat cheese (I used a chevre from Lively Run, a local creamery)
  • 1/2 cup pesto sauce, store-bought or home-made (I used a homemade pesto I had frozen)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Butter a 2 quart baking dish (or use non-stick cooking spray, like I did). Preheat the broiler and arrange a rack on top.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pan over low heat. In a large bowl add the garlic, basil, panko, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan. Add the melted butter and toss to combine. Reserve.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, put the half-and-half in a small pot and bring to a simmer over low heat (I used medium heat because I am impatient; I think it was fine). Simmer until reduced and slightly thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta. Put the pot over low heat and add the half-and-half mixture. When it simmers, add the goat cheese and whisk until smooth. Add in the remaining Parmesan and whisk until melted.

Add the pasta and stir to coat. Stir in the pesto, reserved cooking water, salt, and pepper. Season with additional salt and freshly ground black pepper, if needed.

Pour the pasta mixture into the buttered baking dish and top with the panko mixture. Put under the broiler until the mixture bubbles and the top is browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the broiler and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Verdict: 4.5/5

This easily could have gone into the fail-files.  Firstly, I neglected to read ahead far enough -or pay enough attention when reading – to realize that the parmsan needed to be separated, some for the topping, some for the cheese-mixture.  This led to me having a ridonkulous amount of parmesan in my topping.  Well, I thought, I really like the crispy topping on a mac and cheese, so maybe it won’t matter.

It might not have mattered… Except I accidentally burned the top.  See where the directions indicate to brown the top for only 1 – 2 minutes?  Yeeeeahhh, I got distracted by something shiny and left it in for maybe 5 minutes or so.  This was too long.

BURNED!

Jen was going to be arriving fairly soon and I didn’t have the time or materials to make another batch.  So I did what any classy home chef does: I scraped off the burned bits and hoped for the best.  Did I mention I’m not a professional?

There, I fixed it.

Anyway, I after these rookie mishaps, I was dreading serving this meal, certain it would be dismal.

It totally wasn’t.

...and cooking-spoon is shocked.

To be fair, you need to be a fan both of pesto and of goat cheese.  If you dislike either, this is so not the dish for you – Loverman declared it “meh,” but he doesn’t much care for pesto and isn’t too wild about goat cheese either.  But if you are like me and totally dig both, then you will totally dig this.  The goat cheese offers all the delicious creaminess I crave in a mac and cheese, but it isn’t overly heavy at all.  Jen, who is trying to limit her dairy intake because it can give that unpleasant heavy feeling at times, said she thought it was great.  The pesto adds a fresh, green brightness to the flavor which, combined with the tanginess of the chevre made for a surprisingly invigorating dish.  Even some leftover burned crispies couldn’t detract from its awesomeness.

Way to bounce back after a mediocre start!  Hopefully there will be more soon (and the pictures for this post), but it will depend on if my computer gets over from its aforementioned nervous breakdown in a timely manner.

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