Introduction: Derby Sage Macaroni and Cheese With Ham

About: I love to spend time in the kitchen to relax and feed those I love with great eats and treats.

By now we all know macaroni and cheese is comfort food, but for a true stick-to-your-ribs casserole this recipe fits the bill! Macaroni and cheese with hearty ham and spinach, topped with Parmesan cheese and baked so the top layer gets a little crunchy (my favorite parts), while underneath the creamy cheese sauce envelops the ham, spinach, and pasta to ensure every bite is full of goodness. 

While on a business trip, my dad caught an episode of Rachael Ray where she made this and asked me to make it when he got home, we liked it so much we've eaten it several times since. With a little advanced chopping and cooking you can easily make this ahead of time and keep it in the fridge a few days before baking and eating. Rachael uses Sage Derby cheese, an English cheese marbled with sage, I couldn't find it locally so I used sharp cheddar and made use of our sage plant (the only one strong enough to survive winter), to provide the sage flavor.  

I hope this version of mac and cheese makes an appearance on your dinner table soon, enjoy! 

Serves 6

Recipe from Rachael Ray

Step 1: Gather Ingredients

You'll need:

1 pound cavatappi hollow pasta curls or penne rigate or macaroni with lines
4 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 medium-sized shallots, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh sage, finely chopped (you can omit if using the Sage Derby cheese) 
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
12 ounces crumbled Sage Derby (green-veined sage-scented Cheddar, instead I used Sharp Cheddar)
12 ounces baked or boiled ham, 1/4-inch thick sliced, and chopped
One 10- to 12-ounce package frozen chopped organic spinach, defrosted and wrung dry
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Step 2: Cook Pasta

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Salt the boiling water and cook the pasta just shy of al dente, 5 to 6 minutes.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain. 

Step 3: Prepare Sauce

While the pasta cooks, heat a deep skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Melt the butter and when it foams, add the shallots and cook until lightly browned and softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and fresh sage (If not using Sage Derby cheese) and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

Sprinkle in the flour, whisk for 1 minute until lightly browned. Then whisk in the milk, season with 1 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. black pepper and thicken the sauce to coat the back of a spoon.

Melt in the Sage Derby cheese, then add the ham. Separate the spinach as you stir it into sauce as well. 

Step 4: Bake and Enjoy

Toss the pasta with the sauce (I sometimes find the sauce slightly too thick, if so, add some or all of the reserved pasta water to loosen a bit). Pour into a greased casserole dish, top with the Parmesan cheese. (If desired, cool, cover and refrigerate, and reserve for a make-ahead meal. Let sit on the counter an hour before baking.) 

Bake until brown and bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes, if it was made-ahead it will take more like 35 to 45 minutes.

Serve and enjoy!

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