Years ago I submitted a recipe to Better Homes & Gardens monthly prize tested recipe contest and was shocked when it was a winner! The recipe was for Tuscan Mac and Cheese, and I developed it as a comforting casserole for a friend who was having surgery.
What made it Tuscan? Nothing really, except my Mother had recently given me the book “In Tuscany” by Frances Mayes, and her book inspired both my cooking and my kitchen decor ~ which was painted Botticelli Red!
You can find the original recipe, as published here: Tuscan Mac and Cheese
I haven’t made it in a long time as the original recipe is very indulgent, so I decided to revisit the recipe and modernize it! I have also added a couple of shortcuts to the ingredients in bold italics.
Updated Tuscan Mac and Cheese
1 eight ounce package regular or gluten free dried pasta, cooked and drained according to package directions (subtract 2 minutes from suggested cooking time)
6-8 ounces sweet or hot Italian turkey sausage
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried ground sage
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
(or substitute 2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning for the above ingredients in italics)
2 tablespoons potato starch or unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups lowfat milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1 cup pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup stale or dried bread cubes (leave out if making gluten free, or use gf cornbread)
2 ounces (1/4 of an 8 ounce package) low fat cream cheese, sometimes labeled neufchatel, cut into cubes
2 ounces (1/4 cup) grated parmesan, asiago, romano or grana padano cheese
Or substitute the “shakeable” parmesan you keep in your fridge for topping pizza and spaghetti, just make sure it’s the pure cheese kind, not the kind with cellulose added.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place cooked and drained pasta into your oven safe casserole dish. Crumble and cook sausage in skillet until no longer pink, remove and drain on paper towels. Combine sausage, olives, tomatoes, cream cheese and bread cubes with the pasta in the casserole dish and toss gently.
Heat olive oil, salt, herbs, spices, and potato starch or flour in a large saucepan over low heat for 2 minutes. Add the milk to the saucepan first, then the egg and whisk quickly to mix well. Raise heat to medium high while stirring and bring to boil. Boil gently, stirring, for 3 minutes. Immediately reduce heat to low.
Add the mozzarella cheese, stir until cheese is melted and remove from heat. Taste sauce to adjust seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Pour the cheese sauce over pasta mixture, stirring gently to fully coat.
Top with the 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.
I have seen variations of the original recipe on the web with kale, broccoli or cauliflower added and I think those are all great ideas. You could also add a cup or two of roasted vegetables ~ peppers and onions are great in it. I have also changed the liquids occasionally, using 1 cup of broth (vegetable or chicken) and 1 cup of milk instead of 2 cups milk.