Our twist on the quintessential comfort food
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 small yellow and/or orange bell peppers, trimmed and cut into very thin strips
2 small zucchini (6 ounces total), cut crosswise into thin slices, then into thin strips
2 small yellow crookneck squash (6 ounces each), cut crosswise into thin slices, then into thin strips
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 ounces imported Italian penne or another short tubular shape
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 fresh sage leaves
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/4 cups grated Italian fontina cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over moderate heat and stir in the onion. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Raise the heat slightly and add the bell peppers. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini and yellow squash and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Cook the pasta in a large kettle of boiling salted water for 4 minutes. Drain the pasta and rinse it with cold water.
4. Heat the butter in a medium-size heavy saucepan over moderate to moderately high heat until it becomes a medium nutty brown, being careful not to burn it. Stir in the flour, rosemary, sage, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk and cook, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the sauce is very thick- the consistency of sour cream. Strain the sauce and season well with salt and pepper. Cool slightly.
5. Return the pasta to the same large kettle and stir in the sauce. Add the vegetables and 1 cup of the grated fontina and blend completely. Place the mixture in a deep earthenware or glass baking dish (about 9 inches by 13 inches by 2 inches). Sprinkle with the remaining fontina. Bake for 20 minutes, until the pasta is browned and crusty on top.
Lots of people consider macaroni and cheese the ultimate comfort food, but it has never enchanted us. We find the traditional American version relentless: you're lost in a sea of dairy, with no way out. But add a few bright vegetables to the casserole, use a grown-up cheese with real flavor, bind it all with a luscious browned butter bechamel packed with aromatic fresh herbs -- and we think you've got something extraordinary that really may make you feel safe again. By the way, you'll find fontina at all levels of flavor; we prefer a strong-tasting one in this dish. Serves 6