Tomatoes, garlic, and olives play a major role in the cuisine of Provence, France. This stands to reason since it cozies right up against Italy and shares much of the same Mediterranean growing climate. It also gives us a good excuse to combine the best parts of both cultures in one cheesy bowl of pasta.
This stovetop mac and cheese comes together in about the time it takes the pasta to cook. You can even put your pasta water on to boil and then proceed with prepping the ingredients. The cheese sauce itself takes about ten minutes, and the majority of that time is spent cooking the onions. (Or you can jack up the heat and cook delicious Mark Bittman-style burnt onions in half the time!)
We also played it a little safe on the amounts of olives and sun-dried tomatoes. These are strongly flavored ingredients and not everyone enjoys a big mouthful of them at once. If you love these flavors, we think you could probably bump them up to 3/4 cup each or even a full cup before starting to totally overwhelm the dish.
Provençal-Style Macaroni and Cheese
Makes 6 cups, serves 4-6
8 ounces dried pasta (usually half of a box)
1 onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup black or kalamata olives (niçoise, if you're feeling fancy!), chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter, softened
3/4 cup milk, whole or 2% preferred
1 cup (8 ounces) mozzarella or fontina cheese, shredded
1/2 cup (4 ounces) goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard
Set a large pot filled with water over high heat. When it comes to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt and the pasta. Turn the heat down to medium, stir the pasta a few times, and set a timer for 5 minutes.
While waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook, start working on the cheese sauce. Warm a teaspoon of oil in the bottom of a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a big pinch of salt. Cook until the onions are completely soft and just beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant, another minute or so. Scrape the onion and garlic mixture into a small bowl and combine it with the olives and tomatoes.
Check on your pasta. If it's done, drain it and set it aside. If not, carry on.
In the saucepan you just used for the onions, begin warming the milk over medium heat. Mix together the flour and butter until they form a thick paste. When the milk is warm to the touch, whisk in the flour-butter paste. Make sure that it dissolves completely. Continue heating the milk, stirring gently.
When you see bubbles forming around the edges and the milk is slightly thickened, begin adding in the shredded cheese a little at a time. Crumble the goat cheese and stir this in along with the salt and powdered mustard.
In a big bowl, combine the cooked pasta (it should definitely be done by now), the cheese sauce, and the onion-olive-tomato mix. Stir to coat and eat while everything is still warm and gooey.
Leftovers will keep for up to a week. Add a splash of milk to the reheated pasta to make it creamy again.
(Images: Emma Christensen)