In addition to having the first of the fresh local asparagus at the farmers market this past weekend, they also had some ramps, otherwise known as wild leeks. Ramps have a white bulb on one end and leafy green leaves on the other end. They smell a lot like garlic but they have more of an onion flavour and they can be used in pretty much any dish that calls for anything from green onions to onions to leeks. I first came across wild leeks a few years ago and I have been hooked on them ever since. One of the first things that I did with the ramps was to make a ramp pesto and when I thought about that I remembered an idea that I had been wanting to try for a while and that was for a pesto mac and cheese.
That was all that I needed, and my mind was already racing; How about an asparagus and ramp pesto mac n cheese? As luck would have it I still had some Louis D’or cheese, the cheese that won the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix this year, and I figured that it would work wonderfully in the mac n cheese. (I would definitely have gone with gruyere otherwise.) Since I enjoyed the cheese bechamel sauce from the asparagus gratin that used the water that the asparagus was cooked in for the liquid, I decided to use that for the cheese filling. Finally I added a hit of grainy mustard to give the whole thin a mild bite and add a bunch of flavour.
This asparagus and ramp pesto mac n cheese definitely screams spring especially with all of the green in it! Luckily it is still cool enough to have the oven on, though this mac n cheese would be worth it even if it were on the hotter side as the asparagus, ramp pesto, melted cheese and grainy mustard flavour combination was simply amazing! This recipe makes a lot and I have been enjoying the leftovers for lunches at work throughout the week. The wild leek pesto worked surprisingly well well in a mac and cheese dish and I will have to explore the idea of pestos in mac and cheese further!
Asparagus and Ramp Pesto Mac n Cheese
A spring time take on mac and cheese with asparagus and ramp pesto in a creamy gruyere cheese sauce.
- 4 cups water
- 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed and cleaned, reserving the stems
- 1 pound pasta, your choice (gluten free for gluten free)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons flour (rice flour or masa harina for gluten free)
- 2 cups gruyere or Louis D’or, grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon grainy mustard
- 1/2 cup pesto ramp pesto
- 1 cup gruyere or Louis D’or, grated
- Bring the water and reserved asparagus stems to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes then remove the stems from the water.
- Add the asparagus to the water and simmer until just tender, about 2 minutes.
- Remove the asparagus from the water and set aside, reserving 2 cup of the water.
- Start cooking the pasta as directed on the package.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it is bubbling and it has turned a light golden brown.
- Mix in the flour and let simmer until it returns to a light golden brown.
- Mix in the reserved asparagus water and cheese and heat until the sauce has thickened and the cheese has melted.
- Season with salt and pepper, remove from heat and mix in the mustard, ramp pesto, and asparagus and pour the mixture into a baking dish.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake in a preheated 350F/180C oven until golden brown on the top and bubbling on the sides, about 30-40 minutes.