Macaroni and cheese…it’s the quintessential comfort food and this version has an excellent twist, or two. I am a huge fan of adding ham to mac and cheese to transform it into a meal. But apples? And brie? In macaroni and cheese? Well, that’s a little story right there, and not such a huge leap, given the circumstances.
My contemplation of dinner plans occurred, as generally happens, as I was having my afternoon snack. I decided I really wanted comfort food; the first thing I thought of was macaroni and cheese with ham. As my snack just happened to be a delicious Pink Lady apple and a slice of brie, the puddle was jumped. What would be better than a creamy brie Mornay? And why not throw in some apple? The two go so well together…not to mention how nicely they go with ham.
I have been experimenting with a different use for brie, which I plan to incorporate into a recipe I’m submitting for our local Blue Ribbon Country Fair later this month. Because of that I had plenty on hand. I’d never made a brie Mornay sauce before, but I thought it would be excellent; it was.
I’ll admit, apples in macaroni and cheese may seem a bit odd, but this really works! It’s sort of an upscale version of mac and cheese, but it is one I think kids would love too. I used both a Granny Smith and a Pink Lady apple, mostly for color, but the two varieties are similar in texture too. They are both crisp, with the Granny Smith being a tad tart and the Pink Lady being a bit sweet; they are beautiful with the brie Mornay sauce. Because the apples aren’t cooked prior to finishing the dish in the oven, they retain a nice crispness that is unexpected in macaroni and cheese. Also, leaving the skins on the apples adds to the nutritional value of the meal. Apple skins contain soluable fiber, insoluable fiber, quercitin (an immune system booster), phenols (that help stop chronic diseases) and antioxidents! Just be sure to wash the apples thoroughly.
As I’ve said before, Mornay sauce is just a fancy name for cheese sauce, and it’s very simple to make. It’s a Béchamel sauce (butter, flour and milk) with cheese added (which makes it Mornay), and making your own Mornay sauce sure does beat the socks off of that blue and white box macaroni and cheese. This dish threw together so quickly too! That’s a real plus for a weeknight meal. I’m guessing prep time was about 15 minutes and bake time about 20, so not much over half an hour.
I baked it in individual ramekins and put what was left in a small casserole to take to work and bake in the toaster oven. I can hardly wait for lunch!
- 3 tablespoons butter
- ½ small onion, finely diced
- 3½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- pinch ground nutmeg
- pinch of ground pepper (white if you have it)
- 2 cups half & half, warmed (I put it in a glass measuring cup and microwaved it for 45 seconds...and you could certainly use milk)
- 4 ounces brie, rind removed
- 8 ounces elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions, drained
- 1 granny smith apple, skin left on, diced
- 1 pink lady apple, skin left on, diced
- 8 ounces ham, diced
- a sprinkle of panko crumbs
- Put a medium-sized sauce pan with salted water on to boil for the macaroni.
- In another medium-sized sauce pan, over medium heat, melt the butter.
- Add the onion and saute about 2 minutes.
- Add the flour, salt, nutmeg and pepper.
- Stir and cook for about 3 minutes.
- Add the warmed half & half, using a wire whisk stir until the butter/flour mixture is dissolved.
- Continue cooking and whisking until the sauce begins to thicken, about 4 minutes.
- Add the brie and whisk until the cheese is melted.
- Remove from heat.
- In a large bowl, add the diced apples and ham.
- Pour in the drained macaroni into the bowl with the apples and ham, then add the cheese sauce and stir until combined.
- Pour into a greased baking dish.
- Sprinkle the top with panko crumbs.
- Place the baking dish into a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the panko is browned.