I have a not-so-classic Asiago Mac and Cheese Pie with Truffled Potato Crust for you today that could pass for a geography lesson, or maybe even a life lesson. It may seem like a simple but comforting baked pasta, but unique ingredients and an international pedigree make it something more too.
Mac and Cheese Pie
This “pie” is dense with penne pasta, creamy Wisconsin Asiago cheese and Tuscan kale. I have given it an Idaho potato crust that is scented with truffle oil. I call it a non-traditional pie, but it’s really a variation on timballo di maccheroni, a traditional drum-shaped baked pasta dish from Naples and the surrounding Campania region of Italy. Some few years ago, in a movie called “Big Night,” the preparation of a timballo di maccheroni was featured in a big way. It made a big impression on audiences. Me included. Recipes for timballi proliferated and suddenly the dish came to the attention of Americans. Since then I have made some variation many, many times. But the more I make it the more it becomes (at least in my mind) another great take on good ole Mac & Cheese. Another example of cross-cultural culinary calisthenics.
Whew. That’s a whole lot of culinary travel without a passport.
But that’s what I love most about cooking. Cooking is a way of broadening one’s perspective on the world by bringing together diverse ingredients and worldly cooking styles without ever leaving the stove. Call it kitchen chair travel if you like. It’s a way to gain valuable insight on how other people taste the world. Sorta like chewing a mile in another man’s teeth!
So the lesson I promised is this: Cheese and potatoes from America’s heartland baked into a classically Italian “pie” (made of pasta) is much more than an unexpected combination. The more familiar you become with foods and cooking styles, the more you understand the connectedness of the world. It doesn’t matter if the ingredients are conventional or exotic– or even if the cooking method is completely new to you. Great ingredients interact in wonderful ways and food knows no single culture. Now with all that’s going on in this world, isn’t that a good lesson for your own kitchen? GREG
- 1 lb dried penne pasta
- 1 1/2 lb Idaho russet potatoes
- 1 T unsalted butter
- 1 t white truffle oil
- 2 scallions, white & light green parts, minced
- 1 pn each, kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, plus more as needed
- 2 c half and half
- 1/4 t crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 2 c asiago cheese, grated
- 1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 T vegetable oil
- 1 shallot, peeled & minced
- 3 c lightly packed shredded tuscan kale
- 4 oz sliced prosciutto
- 12 sage leaves, minced
- 1/4 c parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for passing
Cook the penne according to package directions until al dente. Drain and set aside to cool.
Heat oven to 375°F. Bake potatoes until tender, about 45 minutes. Let them cool slightly, then peel the potatoes with your hands. The peels should come off easily. Discard the skins. Push the potatoes through a ricer into a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the butter, truffle oil and scallions until well mixed. Season with salt and pepper. Using your fingers, press the potato mixture evenly across the bottom of a 9‑inch springform pan. Bake until lightly browned on the edges, about 25 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.
Bring the half-and-half to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in the red pepper flakes. Let the mixture cool slightly, then briskly whisk in eggs, egg yolks, Asiago, and nutmeg. Season with more salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the kale and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Stir the cooked penne, Asiago mixture, kale mixture, prosciutto, and sage into a large bowl until well combined. Scrape this mixture over the potato crust and spread evenly. Top with the Parmesan cheese and bake until well-browned on the tips of the penne, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on a rack before releasing the springform pan. Slice into wedges and serve warm with additional Parmesan passed at the table.
NOTE: Tuscan Kale is also known as Cavalo Nero, Lacinata Kale, and Dinosaur Kale.
Greg Henry writes the food blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food, and contributes the Friday column on entertaining forThe Back Burner at Key Ingredient. He’s active in the food blogging community, and a popular speaker at IFBC, Food Buzz Festival and Camp Blogaway. He’s led cooking demonstrations in Panama & Costa Rica, and has traveled as far and wide as Norway to promote culinary travel. He’s been featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Los Angeles Times, More Magazine, The Today Show Online and Saveur’s Best of the Web. Greg also co-hosts The Table Set podcast which can be downloaded on iTunes or atHomefries Podcast Network.