French-Inspired Macaroni and Cheese
A creamy blend of sheep's milk cheese from the French Pyrenees, chèvre (goat cheese), bits of tender ham and herbes de Provence lend this version of macaroni and cheese a unique and elegant flavor profile. Serve it as a main course along with a salad tossed with a classic vinaigrette to make a deliciously simple family meal.
About our French-inspired ingredients:
To give this recipe an authentic French flair, we used imported cheeses, herbes de Provence and a delicious ham called HerbeCotto that we found at the deli counter of our local Whole Foods.
It's an all-natural, uncured ham flavored with a hint of herbes de Provence. It worked beautifully in this recipe, but if you can't find it, look for ham with a mild flavor like standard boiled ham. You don't want to overpower this dish with smoky flavor or the sweetness you'd get from baked ham.
Herbes de Provence:
Herbes de Provence is a dried blend of seasonings that are commonly used in southern France. The mix can vary slightly, but usually contains basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram and summer savory. It has a fragrant, floral quality and how much you use will depend on personal taste and the intensity of the blend you're using.
Ossau-Iraty is an ivory-colored sheep's milk cheese made in the French Pyrenees. It has a firm creamy texture, buttery flavor and nutty aroma. It's high in butterfat, consequently, it melts very smoothly and is a good choice for macaroni and cheese. You can also use Pyrenees de Brebis, another sheep's milk cheese produced in the same region as Ossau-Iraty. The flavor is similar and it also melts nicely.
Chèvre is the French word for goat and when referring to cheese, describes a soft, creamy white cheese made with goat's milk. It has a tangy, grassy flavor that blends beautifully with the sheep's milk cheese in this recipe.
Mimolette is a cow's milk cheese produced in the city of Lille in the northernmost region of France. It is generally aged for 18 to 24 months and has a unique, bright orange color, fruity aroma and nutty, caramel flavor.
- 1 lb pipette (or other medium-sized, ridged cut of pasta)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium shallot (about 3 tablespoons), finely chopped, divided
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
- 3/4 lb uncured ham, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (see notes)
- 2 to 4 teaspoons herbes de Provence, divided
- 3-3/4 cups whole milk
- 5 tablespoons butter, divided
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Salt and freshly ground pepper (white or black)
- 8 ounces Ossau-Iraty (or other French sheep's milk cheese, see notes), coarsely grated
- 6 ounces chèvre (goat cheese), softened
- 3 ounces Mimolette, coarsely grated, divided (see notes)
- 3/4 cup panko crumbs
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pipette and cook until tender but not soft (al dente). Drain and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and generously butter a 2-1/2 to 3-quart baking dish.
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add 2/3 of the shallot (2 tablespoons) and sauté until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the ham and continue cooking 1 minute. Add the wine and 2 teaspoons of the herbes de Provence and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes longer.
- Transfer the mixture to a bowl, set aside and wipe out the pan.
- Heat the milk in the microwave or a separate saucepan until very warm, but not scalded. Set aside.
- Return the saucepan to the stove and melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and blend with a whisk until well combined.
- Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture develops a pale golden color, 3 to 4 minutes. Gradually add the warmed milk, whisking continually until well blended.
- Continue cooking, whisking frequently, until the sauce is smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 7 to 8 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the pan with a spatula once or twice during cooking to ensure there are no lumps in your sauce.
- Reduce the heat to low, add the Ossau-Iraty and stir until completely melted. Add the goat cheese, stir until melted, then add the ham mixture and combine well.
- Cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in 1 teaspoon of the herbes de Provence. Taste again and adjust the amount of herbes de Provence to your liking (we used an additional teaspoon).
- Add the pasta, combine well and transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.
- While the macaroni bakes, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining shallot and sauté until slightly softened, 1 minute.
- Add the panko crumbs and toss to combine. Continue cooking, stirring often, for about 2 minutes, then remove from the heat, add the remaining Mimolette and combine well.
- Remove the macaroni from the oven, top with the crumb mixture and return to the oven until the topping is crisp and golden, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Allow the macaroni and cheese to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.