* We have a winner, folks! The lucky number was 23. That comment belongs to Sonya Morris. I’ll email you with the details. Thanks so much, guys!
I partnered with Dreamfields pasta and several other fabulous food bloggers to celebrate National Pasta Month. The post and giveaway are sponsored by Dreamfields. Below you can win a variety pack of Dreamfields pasta and a $25 gift card. Also, check out #Iheartdreamfields on Twitter for other Dreamfields pasta recipes throughout the month of October.
The Hubs and I try to do a “date night” once a week. Sometimes we go out, but we really enjoy staying in and “cheffing it up” together on date night. It can be anything from a couple steaks on the grill and a nice bottle of wine, to trying our hand at ethnic food we both love eating. Now that the weather is getting cooler and fall has officially set in, date nights in call for something warm and hearty for dinner, and being being curled up on the couch with a movie.
Enter caramelized fennel mac and cheese. It’s elegant and fancy enough for a date night dinner, but still an old favorite, mac and cheese.
This recipe happened by accident, really. A while back, I had bought some fennel to make another pasta dish that had long pasta. I can’t even remember what it was, but it definitely called for fennel and linguine or something. When I finally got around to making it, I realized I didn’t even have any long pasta, but I did have elbow macaroni. I totally improvised, and threw the fennel in the skillet to saute while I boiled some macaroni for mac and cheese. I figured I’d just throw it all together and see what happened. Turns out, it was amazing.
Don’t be turned off by the fennel in this recipe. When it is raw, it does have an a bracingly strong taste that some people don’t like. But when you cook it down a bit with some butter, the taste turns mellow and soft, and compliments melty cheese sauce and pasta perfectly.
Date Night Caramelized Fennel Mac and Cheese (serves 2)
- 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tb unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups of chopped fennel, bulb and stalks (this was about half of a bulb and stalks)
- 1 cup Dreamfields elbow macaroni, dry
- 1 1/2 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 Tb all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups of 2% milk
- pinch of black pepper
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 4 oz. fontina, shredded
- 2 Tb of shredded parmesan (divided)
- 3 Tb bread crumbs
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp unsalted butter
Bring about 2 quarts of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. When the water reaches a boil, cook the macaroni according to the package directions. Meanwhile, heat the 1 Tb olive oil and 1 Tb butter in a skillet until melted on low heat. Add the chopped fennel, and turn the heat up to medium high. Stir the fennel constantly to keep it from burning until it begins to turn golden brown and soft. This takes about 10 minutes. Set aside. Add the 1 1/2 Tb of oil and flour to another pot, and turn heat on low. Blend together into a paste and cook for a minute or two. Slowly whisk in the milk, until all the lumps are gone. Season with black pepper and the nutmeg. Turn the heat up to medium and whisk slowly to keep from scorching until the mixture thickens. Add the fontina cheese and 1 Tb of the parmesan to the milk mixture and stir well to melt the cheese, so the sauce is smooth. Add the caramelized fennel to the cheese sauce. Once the macaroni is al dente, remove from heat and drain the water. Mix the cheese and fennel with the noodles and stir well to completely coat the noodles. Add the 1 tsp of butter to a skillet (can be the same one you used for the fennel) and turn on low heat. When the butter is melted, add the bread crumbs, 1 Tb shredded parmesan and paprika, and stir well. Brown on low heat for a few minutes, stirring often until the bread crumbs turn a deep brown and crisp up a bit. Divide the mac and cheese between two dishes and sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top of each.
Because mac and cheese is so rich and decadent, it’s nice to get a little help in this dish in the good-for-you department from Dreamfields pasta. You guys know I don’t usually subscribe to health claims, but here’s why Dreamfields pasta gets a gold star, and you should be choosing it when you buy pasta. Dreamfields pasta has more fiber and fewer calories and sugar per serving that other types of pastas. It’s because Dreamfields has formulated their pasta with inulin, a form of vegetable fiber. Everyone knows that fiber is good for you, but the reason is that it helps slow your digestion so you feel fuller and you don’t have a carb crash later like we sometimes do when we heat carb-heavy dishes. I also like it because it cooks perfectly al dente in only a few minutes, and doesn’t get mushy easily.
Voila! Date night dinner.
Now for the fun part… The GIVEAWAY!
Dreamfields will send one lucky reader a variety (seven kinds!) of pastas and a $25 gift card. All you have to do to get in on the action, is simply leave a comment below telling me what kind of pasta is your favorite. You can get more chances to win by “liking” or “following” Dreamfields on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Just leave a separate comment for each one with your respective Twitter or Instagram username. So, if you do all three of those things, you can have a total of four entries for the giveaway. Just remember to leave a separate comment for each one that you do.
The winner will be selected randomly and notified by email. The contest is open until Monday, October 27th at 11:59 pm. The contest is open to U.S. addresses only.
The legal jargon: This post was sponsored by Dreamfields Pasta. As always, opinions are 100% mine. I received some shwag in the form of pasta from Dreamfields for writing it, and you can receive some too, if you enter the giveaway.