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Test Kitchen: Plan ahead with baked pasta topped with croutons, panko

By Jessica Rodrigo
Aug. 21, 2013 at 3:21 a.m.

Baked pasta is an easy go-to dish that can be made in advance and popped into the oven when you're ready to eat. Just heat it up long enough to the toast the croutons and heat the pasta throughout.


• 21/2 cups dry pasta

• 1/2 cup butter

• 1/4 cup flour

• 1/2 tsp. of ground nutmeg

• 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed but left in big pieces

• 1 cups Monterey cheese

• 1/2 cup white cheddar

• 1-11/2 cups heavy cream

• 3-4 slices of bread, cut into cubes

• 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a pot over medium-high heat, bring about 1 quart of water to a boil. Season the water with salt, add dry pasta and cook pasta until al dente. Turn off the heat and cover with a lid. In a large, nonaluminum pot (a ceramic lined cast iron pot works well), melt 1/4 cup of the butter over a low to medium heat. Add nutmeg and crushed garlic to the melted butter, pressing down on the cloves with the back of a spoon to infuse the butter. Once the garlic begins to brown slightly, remove cloves and set aside. Add the flour about half a teaspoon at a time to the butter, making sure it is fully incorporated before adding more. Cook the mixture long enough to create a soft paste. To the paste, add the heavy cream and stir well breaking up the clumps. Begin adding the cheese in batches until it becomes a smooth sauce. Add the cooked pasta to this sauce and empty into a casserole dish. If the mixture becomes dry, add a little pasta water to make it creamier.

In another pan, melt remaining butter. Chop the garlic from earlier and add to the butter with salt and pepper. Add croutons and panko and mix well. Top the casserole with bread mixture and pop into a 350-degree oven to brown the bread or let cool in refrigerator uncovered to cook later. Serve hot.

Can't make it? go get it.

PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar (Fried mac and cheese)

Address: 1201 W. Stayton, Victoria

Phone: 361-572-9800

Hours: Closed Monday, open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-midnight Thursday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

The world is always changing, and the best you can do is keep up. That's why planning meals ahead of time provides a short reprieve from the constant hustle and bustle.

Baked pasta and cheese is an easy meal you can make ahead of time and pop into the oven when you're ready to chow after work or after a day working in the yard.

It takes little more than the amount of time it takes to cook pasta. If you can multitask in the kitchen, then you're good to go, but you can always take your time and manage the recipe pot-by-pot.

The butter is one of the most important components of the recipe. When you're melting the butter, this is the best chance to infuse other flavors into the cheese mixture. I used crushed garlic cloves and a little bit of nutmeg to flavor the roux, but you can use a variety of herbs, spices and alternative cheeses.

If you choose to use herbs, you could remove the herbs before adding the flour to avoid leaving pieces of the leaves in your end dish, or your can leave them in. It's the same idea behind using white pepper in Alfredo sauce instead of a black pepper which leaves specs in a creamy sauce.

The butter is also important because you can infuse flavor in the panko and crouton topping by using the same methods of adding extra taste for the crumb topping.

Have a recipe or a dish you want my to try? Email me at or tweet me via @EatsEatsEats. I'm always hungry.



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