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I debated and debated what to call this post, what might grab your attention. I settled on “Macaroni & Cheese for Grown-Ups” because that was what I sought to create when I was planning out this dish. And that is sort of what I made. Sort of. What I wanted was the creamy, gooey goodness of a well-made macaroni & cheese, with that sound you get when you stir slowly through all the cheesy sauce. What I didn’t want was pounds of cheese, slabs of butter, cups of milk.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with traditional mac ‘n cheese, and you will never get me to say a bad word about a cheesy casserole, in general, but it’s got to be tempered a bit, sometimes, or else you can’t have it more than once a month or so.  (Yes, I am treading lightly. This is an American cultural icon we’re discussing, and who am I to say negative things about that?) Ask my husband about some of my famous macaroni & cheese creations, which he endures eats with a grimace smile most of the time. My goal with those is always to get the essence of a good macaroni casserole without all of the, well, what I said above. I add diced tomatoes (which I love the taste of and will not stop doing, honey) in place of some of the cheese or broccoli, or peas, or use skim milk, etc. But for this dish, my goal was less about lightening up a heavy meal and more about replacing cheddar and butter with more sophisticated flavors: I wanted to incorporate some of my prized caramelized onions, and I wanted bleu cheese. I used cream. And I will do it again.

Here’s what I ended up with: chiocciole with Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions & bleu cheese. Chiocciole are like very large elbow macaroni; they vaguely remind me of the shape of a snail shell and they are perfect for trapping a bit of sauce, maybe a strand or two of onion, in each bite. The Brussels sprouts were a late addition, but the bitterness was a great foil for the sweetness of the onions, and they work with bleu cheese. Oh, do they work. The cheese I used is a creamy bleu from Trader Joe’s called St. Agur, similar to a gorgonzola (or Oregonzola if you’re from this neck of the woods and have had the chance to try that–yum), though you can use your favorite, because it’s bleu cheese, and if you love it you just want to eat it, stop debating, eat it. Where was I? Anyway, putting all these bold ingredients together terrified my husband, but his concerns were quickly hushed by the whole eating-every-bite thing; it was a nice treat for two adults who love a good mac n’ cheese, whether you could label it that or not. It never matters as much when it tastes good, does it?

Chiocciole with Brussels Sprouts, Caramelized Onions & Bleu Cheese

  • 8 oz. chiocciole (or similar), cooked according to the package directions
  • 10-12 Brussels sprouts, trimmed
  • 2/3 c. caramelized onions
  • 1/3 c. cream
  • 2 oz. bleu cheese, crumbled or cut into small pieces (about 1/4 c.)
  • freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan filled with boiling salted water, cook the Brussels sprouts for 7-8 mins.; drain them and cut into halves or quarters, depending on the size and your preference. They should be mostly cooked but still firm; if you consider them very underdone, make sure to add in a few extra mins. of cooking time for them in the next step.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the caramelized onions, stirring to break them up a little and reheat. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook for 4-5 mins., to heat through. (This is where you can add extra cooking time, if necessary.) Add the cream and most of the bleu cheese, reserving a small amount for garnish; cook, stirring, just until everything is warmed through, then add the drained pasta and black pepper to the pan and toss to coat with sauce. Serve garnished with the remaining bleu cheese. Serves four.