Corkscrews with Extra Sharp Vermont Cheddar

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there!


I know this might seem a little heavy for a spring meal, but we’ve had over a week of cloudy damp weather and somehow a homemade Mac n’ Cheese just hit the spot last week. With colorful corkscrew pasta we found at our local co-op and a good hunk of extra sharp Vermont cheddar, the humble nursery dish takes an elegant turn (pun intended).

Although this recipe includes Tabasco, it isn’t spicy at all so don’t let the hot sauce scare you away if you’re not a fan of spicy foods. The Tabasco just balances the heavy creaminess of all the dairy — you don’t actually taste it in the finished dish. Without it, you’ll think to yourself, “this is kinda flat,” and you’ll want something to round out the flavor.

The slight bitterness and acidity of flash-cooked rapini with garlic was a perfect counterpoint to the rich cheesiness of this entree.

Serves 4-5 persons

6 TBL butter
6 TBL flour
3 1/2 cups low-fat milk
3/4 cup half-n-half
* 2 TBL heavy cream
(optional: If you’re using whole milk, you don’t need the extra cream — I added it to keep my sauce from splitting since we use low-fat milk at home)
1 lb. extra sharp Vermont cheddar, grated
2 tsp. Tabasco, or your favorite hot sauce
sea salt and finely ground white pepper
1 lb. corkscrew pasta, cooked just past al dente (softer than normal) and drained well

Preheat oven (we used our over-size toaster oven) to 350F.

Butter generously a 3 qt/L casserole (Auflauform).

Make a roux: Melt butter over medium low heat in a stainless steel pan that is large enough to hold all the pasta too. Add flour and stir to incorporate flour. When mixture starts to foam, add 1/2 cup milk and stir well until flour mixture absorbs liquid.

Increase heat to medium, and add another 1/2 cup milk, and stir until combined again. Continue adding milk in 1/2 cups, stirring well after each addition — don’t be tempted to add the milk all at once or you will be chasing after lumps!

When all milk has been added, add half-n-half and heavy cream (if using). Allow to cook until sauce begins to thicken, about 5-8 minutes depending on your stove and saucepan. Keep aside 1 cup of grated cheese, and add the rest to the sauce by handfuls, stirring well to melt cheese between each addition. Add Tabasco and sea salt and ground white pepper. Taste, and correct seasoning.

When all cheese has melted, add cooked corkscrews, and stir to coat pasta. Immediately tip half into prepared baking dish, scatter 1/2 cup reserved grated cheddar over, and fill with remaining pasta. Gently push pasta so most are below the sauce. Scatter last 1/2 cup of cheese over top, and put in pre-heated oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until top is just browned (our smaller oven got to the topping before I could cover it with foil and it is a little too brown).

Serve with your favorite salad with a nice acidic dressing — or as shown here with a vegetable with a bitter edge such as rapini, arugula, escarole or watercress.
Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon (Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck, now Three-Plus Chuck) compliments this well — and your heart will thank you, too.