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Wine Braised Swiss Chard Mac and Cheese

Yeah, still taking pictures of dinner with my iPhone.  Sorry.

So tonight's dinner was inspired by a trip to Natural Grocers.  They had some Swiss Chard in the produce section and it was beautiful.  I could not keep a bunch of it from jumping into my cart.

I bought the stuff to make mac & cheese last week, intending to make it for a dinner party.  I ended up doing Brunswick stew instead, so I still had the smoked gouda and sharp cheddar in the ice box.

It was really chilly here today, so I was in the mood for something oozy and cheesy for dinner.  I decided to braise the chard and add it to the mix.

I didn't use a recipe for this, but I'm sure that doesn't surprise you.  I can tell you what I did, but I don't have any measurements.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Firstly, I put on the water for the macaroni.  When it boiled, I added about half a box of elbow macaroni.  I let it cook about 8 minutes, then took it out and rinsed it with cold water.  It set to the side while I got everything else ready.  I got out my biggest non stick skillet.  I put a few glugs of olive oil in it, sliced some fresh garlic and threw it over medium heat.  While the garlic and oil were heating, I washed and chopped the chard- stems and leaves separately.  When the garlic was brown, I took it out with a slotted spoon and left the yummie garlic flavored oil in the pan.  I bumped the heat up a little and threw in the chard stems.  While they were cooking away, I shredded a piece of smoked gouda (about as big as the palm of my hand) and about the same sized piece of sharp cheddar.  By that time the stem pieces were soft, so I threw in the leaves (when I chopped the leaves I rolled them up like cigars and made a chiffonade- but I don't think it matters how you chop it).  I added some reisling (the end of a bottle I had in the fridge) and a little salt and pepper, then let it cook down with the lid off while I made the sauce for the mac and cheese.

To make the sauce I used the same pot I boiled the macaroni in.  I put about 3 tablespoons of butter in it (over medium heat) and waited for it to melt.  Then I added about the same amount of all purpose flour.  I let that cook, stirring every once in a while.  After about 3 minutes I added 2% milk.  I have no idea how much I added.  I looked at the amount of pasta I had, then eye-balled the milk to have enough sauce for that much pasta.  If I HAD to guess, maybe it was 3 cups?  I whisked the milk around for a few minutes to make sure the flour and butter got evenly incorporated.  At this point I grated some fresh nutmeg in, added some sriracha hot sauce, a little salt and a whole lot of freshly ground black pepper. I kept whisking fairly frequently to keep it from scorching on the bottom.  It will take a few minutes to begin thickening, but when it starts, it really kicks in.  If it gets too thick, you can always add a little more milk.  Mine was just about right.  I turned the heat down to low, then added the shredded cheeses.  Honestly, I added them one at a time, whisking the sauce after each addition until it was silky smooth again.  At this point I tasted the sauce.  I HATE mac & cheese that isn't seasoned enough.  I added a bit more hot sauce (to cut the richness and give it some character), a tad more salt and a lot more black pepper.  Then I dumped the skillet full of chard in the sauce.  The chard had braised for probably about 10 minutes, and the wine had evaporated completely.  I dumped the macaroni in after that.  I stirred until everything was coated with sauce and poured it into an 8x11ish pyrex casserole dish.

I made a quick bread crumb topping with 2 tablespoons of melted butter and a couple of handfuls of panko breadcrumbs.  That mixture got sprinkled on the top and into the oven it went- for about 35 minutes.  I like to let the crumbs get really brown and the cheese to char a little on the edges.  While it was baking I roasted some pine nuts in a dry skillet.  When I served the mac & cheese I garnished it with the pine nuts.

This really didn't suck.  Devin went back for seconds.  Really.  He did.


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