Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Challenge Accepted! Italian inspired Mac and Cheese

I am one who loves a challenge, so last week when Jon from Local In Season reached out to ask me a few questions, and challenge me to create a twist on a classic dish, well I jumped at the chance!  

I was asked to make classic Mac and Cheese, but incorporating some of those wonderful, local fresh vegetables that we love so much.  So I spent the next few days thinking through everything that is so beautiful and fresh right now.  I was going to add spinach and chicken and some tomatoes, but then, as fate would have it, a wrench was thrown into my planning.  On Friday evening, as John and I meandered around the North End we stumbled upon Monica's Mercato, a small Italian Grocer that I had the pleasure of visiting on The North End Market Tour that I covered for Dine and Cook a few weeks back.  I dragged poor John into the store, and in a crazy (hungry) moment, I requested a pound each of fresh provolone and Prosciutto, as well as a little jar of black olive tapenade.  Oh lord.  Do you have any idea how much Prosciutto COMES in a pound??  Surveying my purchase the next day, I realized that it was not an option, my Mac and Cheese challenge MUST incorporate Prosciutto.  

Sunday, we drove to the lovely Volante Farms in Needham, since in last weeks craziness at the office, I hadn't had time to visit my much loved Farmers Markets.  I must say- Volante Farms were far from a "second choice"-their selection of fresh vegetables- most of which from their own farm- was more than impressive and I left with more than enough vegetables to compliment the Prosciutto.

I have to say-those vegetables were gorgeous, and I had a fantastic time blending their incredibly fresh basil into a lovely pesto, roasting their tomatoes with Italian herbs and shucking their lovely, beautiful peas.  It's funny, as I stood in the farm stand surveying their bounty, I spied the fresh sweet peas in their husks and I was immediately brought back to a trip to Italy I took with my family when I was little.  I remember one evening we got pizza for dinner, and much to my dismay there were PEAS on it!  Peas?  On my pizza?  In my 8 year old head this just wouldn't do.  However through much persuasion, my mother was able to convince me to not pick them off as I was rudely about to do, and I ended up loving the combination of the pop of the pea with the lovely cheese. Looking at the peas on Sunday- I knew that I wanted to try to recreate this sensation.

The recipe in its entirety can be found on the Local In Season site but I'll leave you here with the photographic journey.

The simple combination of flavors between the olive tapenade that I added into the bread crumb topping, to the prevalence of the beautiful pesto combined with the cheesy sauce made this an incredible dish.  The burst of the peas brought me right back to my childhood and sitting in that Italian Ristorante staring at the peas on my pizza-and then the joy of trying them later.  Even better?   I got to use up some of that beautiful Prosciutto- which by the way is incredibly addictive!  I now need MANY more ideas of dishes to throw it into :-)

John is a huge fan of Mac and Cheese, and this was passed the books in his eyes- what is your favorite Mac and Cheese?


MichellePC said...

You totally nailed this challenge! ;) Great article, recipe, and interview on LIS!

Boston Food Diary said...

Thanks Michelle!! It was so much fun to do!!

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