I also really loved Leslie's addition of artichoke hearts, although I adjusted the recipe to call for frozen artichoke hearts instead of jarred and marinated hearts. (I think the frozen artichoke hearts have a much better texture.) The smoked paprika put it over the top. Smoked paprika is one of those magic casserole ingredients — it makes everything a little yummier.
Big-Hearted Macaroni & Cheese with Artichokes
serves 6 to 8
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts
1 pound elbow macaroni or small shells
8 ounces silken tofu
2 1/2 cups skim milk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch
6 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup bread crumbs or panko
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil. Place the frozen artichoke hearts in a colander and run cold water over them for a few moments. Remove from the colander and set aside.
Heat a 4-quart pot of salted water to boiling and add the pasta. Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package specifies, to just barely al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the pasta from cooking. Return to the cooking pot.
Cut each artichoke heart into several bite-sized pieces and stir into the cooked pasta.
Place a 10-inch deep skillet or wide saucepan over medium heat. Place the tofu in the pan, and mash it thoroughly with a fork or whisk. Whisk in the milk, mustard, salt, paprika and pepper. Warm the mix until bubbles form around the edges, then whisk in the cornstarch and shredded cheese. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens just slightly. As it heats, it will appear somewhat lumpy. This is fine; just whisk occasionally as you stir.
When the mixture has thickened slightly, turn off the heat and pour it into the pot with the macaroni and artichokes. Stir thoroughly, and taste for seasoning. If necessary, stir in a little extra salt and pepper, then spread in the prepared baking dish.
Mix the bread crumbs and Parmesan and sprinkle over the pasta. Drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy on top. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.