Pasta enveloped in creamy cheese sauce is one of the oldest recipes in the book. Versions of this dish are enjoyed by every age group, from children to the elderly. I have fond memories of devouring mac and cheese as a little girl and wanted to find a more elegant and flavorful way to make this dish and what I found was Penne and Cheese with Ham and Peas.
I first made what is called a roux which is the base for sauce. The sauce in question today was a béchamel, or white sauce. Making the roux was pretty simple to create, simply butter and flour. Then I added warmed milk and allowed the sauce to thicken.
After the béchamel had thickened, I boiled some water for the penne. You can use one of many pastas: elbow macaroni, shells, etc. but I prefer penne. When the pasta was almost cooked, I added frozen peas to the pot to allow the peas to defrost and cook. Then I drained the pasta and peas.
After adding cheddar and Parmesan cheese to the béchamel sauce, I added the pasta, peas, and ham that I had chopped. I decided to add ham and peas to make it more of a main dish and to give it some new flavors. It is also possible to bake this dish with some panko breadcrumbs and extra cheese, if you prefer your macaroni and cheese baked.
When sat down to dinner, everyone raved about this dish. The peas were a fresh addition and the ham added a sweet and smokey flavor that you wouldn’t normally get from a generic macaroni and cheese. The cheese sauce was so creamy and coated the penne nicely. Give it a try, if you have any comments on the recipe, leave them below. Bon Appetit!
Penne and Cheese with Ham and Peas
Adapted from CHOW
Makes 6 servings
4 cups whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons kosher salt plus 1 tablespoon
1 pound penne pasta, or another preferred pasta
2 cups frozen peas
1 1/2 cups ham, diced
8 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, shredded
Heat milk in a medium saucepan to a simmer, then set aside.
Over medium heat, in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt butter.
Whisk in flour and continue to whisk for 3 minutes, until the mixture turns light brown.
Remove from heat, continue to whisk, and slowly add the hot milk.
Return to medium high heat, continuing to whisk, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce thickens.
Add 1 tablespoon of salt, taste, and add more if needed. Set sauce aside while you cook the pasta.
Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and cook penne for about 10 minutes or until al dente.
Add peas to the pasta water a minute before it has finished. Drain and set aside.
Place sauce over medium heat and add both cheeses. Continue to stir until smooth.
Add pasta, peas, and ham and cook for 2-4 minutes. Serve immediately.