Spinach and Artichoke Mac n Cheese

After a long work week, it’s tempting to just pick up the smart phone and order take out on a Friday night.  (especially during Lent when menu options are limited)  But I am trying to make smarter choices about where our food budget goes, and how far it goes.  And I’m always trying to develop new Cheftovers dishes.  So when I was trolling the fridge for dinner ideas, I decided to start with some excellent mac n cheese in a Bechamel sauce (a doggy bag from a previous dinner out).  

mac n cheese

And I knew just what direction I wanted to go with it.  Since I was craving “bar food,” I was going to turn this into Spinach and Artichoke Mac n Cheese.  

I gathered the elements I would need to “refresh” these leftovers and beef up the portion to make it enough for dinner for two.  I found a can of quartered artichoke hearts in my pantry, a bag of fresh spinach, and half a shallot and some garlic in the veggie drawer.  I also grabbed some heavy cream and Parmesan cheese (two staples I always keep around) and Monterrey Jack (leftover from a white chicken chili recipe I made-happy to have use for it.  Not something we eat much of regularly)

I started by chopping the shallots and garlic and tossing them in to a pan with some olive oil  Once they softened I added the artichokes and let them do the same for a few minutes.  Then I tossed in the spinach.  And while that wilted I grated the cheeses.

sauted artichokes and spinach

Once the veggies were cooked, and seasoned, I poured in some heavy cream and tossed in the cheese. I stirred it around and let it thicken up and get bubbly, but not burn, so I kept the heat on medium/low.  After tasting it, I remembered a spice that Italians like to put into some of their cream sauces…nutmeg.  It doesn’t seem like a natural addition, but trust me, it works.  I added a pinch of that and let the sauce thicken a tad.

spinach artichoke sauce

It was time to toss in the original mac n cheese.  I gave it a good stir with the supplemental sauce I made, to ensure it was totally coated.  Then I transferred the mixture to a greased baking dish.

baked spinach and artichoke mac n cheese

For a couple of final touches, I topped the mixture with buttered bread crumbs and drizzled some white truffle oil.  A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly if you have it.  I put the revamped mac n cheese in a 350* until the bread crumbs were golden brown, roughly 25 min.

The end result was a warm, satisfying main course made from what may’ve otherwise been thrown out, plus a few kitchen must-haves put to good use.  I will certainly add this to a my go-to Lenten dishes.  What are you making during Lent (besides a phone call to your local pizza shop?)

Risotto Redux

When my husband bites into something he really likes, he often uses a playful term to describe it: “tastycakes.”  I believe I’ve just created actual “tastycakes.”  You be the judge.   I’ve asked those close to me, and those of you  following me to send me a challenge.  What are some of the leftovers you often have lingering around your house, that you’d like to give a “Cheftovers” makeover to?  My sister is this week’s challenger.  The subject: leftover risotto.

leftover risott

We like to make a lot of risotto in my family.  It’s a great side in its simplest form, and it’s a great canvas for other ingredients (often bits and pieces of excess ingredients from other dishes like asparagus, artichokes or spinach) that can help boost it up to an entree.  It takes time and attention, and arborio rice is much more expensive than white or brown rice.  For those reasons, it’s a shame to toss anything not eaten.

Whenever I see arancini on a menu, I can’t resist.  They’re rice balls (often with a cheesy center)  lightly breaded and fried, and served with a marinara…kinda like rice croquettes.  I knew I wanted to go this direction.  Problem is, I don’t have a fryer, which is necessary to get that even golden brown finish around the entire thing.  So I decided to adjust the shape for easier execution.  Just smoosh ’em down and call them risotto cakes!  I also remembered a half a bag of teeny tiny shrimp I had waiting in the freezer (the kind you’d use to make shrimp salad)  Now…I was cookin’!

start of marinara

I started on a quick marinara.  I chopped up some garlic, and onion and let those sweat it out in some olive oil while I finely diced up a stalk of celery and a carrot.  (for best results, you should really grate those both…but to be honest, I was feeling a bit lazy, so I decided to get past the slightly chunkier texture at the end to avoid that tedious step)  I allowed the veggies to cook down and soften, making sure to season them with salt and pepper.  Then I reached for the other half of a large can of crushed tomatoes I had in the fridge (from a recipe earlier in the week) as well as some tomato paste (from the same dish).  I added those, and a generous dash of crushed red pepper to give it some kick.  If I had fresh basil around, I would’ve used it here too.  But since I didn’t, I settled for dry herbs instead.  Since I was winging it, I stirred it and tasted it frequently, adding salt and water until it had the consistency and flavor I was looking for.  In the end, I actually ran it through a food processor to get a smoother texture.

marinar

Then I got to work on the risotto cakes.  To the leftover risotto, I added about a cup of chopped tiny shrimp, a heaping tablespoon of parsley, an egg and a little bit of breadcrumbs (until the mixture wasn’t “wet” anymore).  I didn’t season them too much, as the risotto already had been upon first preparation (with s/p, shallots and garlic).  I took about two tablespoons of the mixture and rolled it into a ball, then coated it in more breadcrumbs.  I placed them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then smashed them down until they looked more like crab cakes than meatballs.  I then froze them to prevent them from falling apart in the frying pan.

risotto cakes

When I was ready to cook them, I just defrosted them in the refrigerator to defrost, than pan fried them, just like I would a crab cake.  I warmed the marinara and served it on the side.  Tastycakes, indeed.

What’s next?  Give me something good to work with!  I’m ready.  Send pics or ideas and I’ll get cooking.