Hi everybody! It’s Courtney again. The Courtney who usually sends in sweet, fatty, overly decadent posts to guest. I do that because those are the dishes I get most excited about, but they aren’t what I eat most of the time – even 20% of the time. Most of what I eat is full of veggies and plant-based protein sources. This dish, though. This combines everything I love about a rich, winter casserole (it’s been down to the single digits here in Boston and we need things to stick to the ribs!) and features more veggies than you can shake a stick at. Even better, nearly everything is local. The Boston Public Market – a year-round indoor farmer’s market – opened this year and is right on my commute home. Everything at the market must come from within 100 miles of Boston. This has been wonderful for my life but terrible for my wallet.
The pasta is from a pasta-of-the-month CSA Christmas present to myself with an incredible pasta maker called Nella Pasta; the cheese is from Wolf Meadow Farm, which specializes in Italian cheeses made just north of Boston; the sausage is from Chestnut Hill Farms, about 30 miles west that, while not organic, has a heavy focus on sustainable farming and treating their animals well, and all the veggies are from local farms and primarily organic. If you’re ever in Boston and need a fantastic meal Wednesday-Sunday, I highly recommend it.
Anyway, onto the meal. It looks complicated and it looks like there are a lot of ingredients, but it’s actually a very easy to assemble with a lot of downtime. You can also put in whatever veggies you like – I was thinking tomatoes (especially sundried), or roasted peppers would be excellent, but they weren’t at the market when I was there. As long as you keep with the somewhat sweet, smokey theme, use this as a base and play around with it. You could even sub out the sausage for white beans to make this vegetarian!
Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese (makes 8-10 servings)
1 large yellow onion
4 tbs butter
1 lb whole wheat pasta shells (or elbows)– I used Nella Pasta’s Ancient Grains, which is a local Boston pasta maker
2 large or 3 medium sweet potatoes
10 oz spinach
8 oz grated cheese of choice – I used a combination of Wolf Meadow Farm’s cavatippi and smoked scamortza, but white cheddar and smoked gouda would be great too – or gruyere. Even pepperjack. As long as there’s something melty and something smokey.
Package of Andouille sausage
Milk ~ ½ cup
1 tsb flour
1 tsp smoked paprika
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp rosemary
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ cup grated parmesan
Finely dice onions. Melt your butter over low heat in a medium to large saucepan and add the onions. That will form the base for your eventual sauce so don’t worry about the obscene amount of butter. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
Caramelize your onions over low heat for at least half an hour until they are translucent and golden to golden-brown, stirring occasionally. While the onions caramelize, wash and peel your sweet potatoes and chop them into rings. Place the rings on a cookie sheet and put in the preheated oven for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how thickly you cut them. They should be easily pierced with a fork, but not mushy, and with some golden brown spots. Leave on the cookie sheet until they are cool enough to be handled, then mash in a bowl.
Cut or tear the spinach into strips, removing the stems if using mature spinach. Blanch (dip into boiling water, then shock with cold water to stop the cooking process) and set aside in a colander to drain.
If your sausage is precooked, cut it into half-inch slices. If it isn’t cooked, put on a cookie sheet in the oven (still at 400 degrees) for 20 minutes, flipping halfway. Check to make sure it reaches an internal temperature of 165F. Once cooled enough to handle, cut into half-inch slices.
Put a medium saucepan of water to boil and cook your pasta until about 2/3 done, with the interior still crunchy. I used fresh pasta so I only dropped it in for about a minute. Reserve half a cup of pasta water.
Check your onions at this point. If they are sufficiently caramelized, put in the flour, paprika, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir for about a minute until the onions are thoroughly coated and the flour is cooked. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly. Once the milk is incorporated add the sweet potatoes and stir until the liquid is smooth. Add the pasta water, and add in the cheese by handful, stirring in between. If the sauce gets too thick, thin it with a bit of milk or additional pasta water. Put your sausage in and let cook on low to medium heat until the sauce smooths, stirring occasionally. Add rosemary and salt to taste.
Once your sauce has smoothed (it may take a bit, be patient!) put your pasta, spinach, and sauce into a very large bowl and stir to combine. Pour into a greased or buttered 9×13 baking dish, and top with breadcrumbs and parmesan. Bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is bubby, the top is golden brown, and you start getting some lovely carmelized bits on the side. Broil for the last 2-3 minutes or put your oven on its highest heat if you have no broiler. Let sit for 5 minutes before digging in and enjoy!
*Disclaimer: Courtney claims she is not a food photographer. I consider anyone who photographs food a food photographer. We disagree on this. Also, she used a hand model named Kellie.