Viviane Bauquet Farre
When braised, leeks lose their spunk and turn mellow and sweet, pair them with a sweet and slightly tangy Asiago and you have a mac and cheese that will make you come back for seconds even if your stomach screams it’s full.
Note: The mac and cheese is best eaten as soon as it’s made. Reheating will make it stodgy.
The braised leeks can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. The béchamel can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Gently reheat it over medium-low heat and thin with a little milk before using in the recipe. Boil the pasta, and assemble and bake the mac and cheese just before serving.
Remove 4 inches of the leek tops and trim the roots. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and wash them thoroughly. Cut into ¼-inch-thick slices. Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and leeks.
Toss well and sauté until the leeks have wilted and just begin to take on a golden color, tossing occasionally, about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and wine.
Quickly toss, reduce heat to medium-low and cover the pan. Braise the leeks for 25 minutes until very tender and all the juices have evaporated (if there is still some liquid in the pan after braising the leeks for 25 minutes, sauté at high heat for 1-2 minutes until all juices have evaporated). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Place the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as the butter is melted, whisk in the flour and cook until the mixture becomes foamy and the flour becomes golden, but not brown, whisking constantly for 1-2 minutes.
Quickly whisk in the warm milk and cream. While constantly whisking, increase heat to medium-high and return to a boil. As soon as it reaches boiling point, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 6-8 minutes until the béchamel has slightly thickened, still whisking constantly. Add the nutmeg, salt, pepper, and Asiago. Whisk until the cheese has melted and remove from heat.
Place the breadcrumbs and Parmesan in a small bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and mix well. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bring 6 quarts water to a boil over high heat. When the water is boiling, add the salt and the pasta. Cook the pasta about 2 minutes less than the package directions so that it’s not cooked all the way through.
Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Add the leeks and béchamel to the pasta and stir until well combined. Lightly butter a 10-by-15-inch glass or ceramic baking dish and transfer the pasta to the dish.
Top with the breadcrumbs and bake until bubbly on the sides and golden, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and heat the broiler on high. Place the mac and cheese under the broiler for a few seconds to brown the breadcrumbs. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.