The weather has been terrible here. There is no other word for it. It’s been an endless barrage of rain and cold and cold and rain. We have only BBQ’d once and it’s nearly June. That is just not normal. But even though the weather has forsaken us our grocery stores are still boasting a plentiful harvest of fresh produce. So, armed with all the green I could manage to haul home, I bring you this Chevre Fontina Mac and Cheese with Sweet Pea Pesto. It’s equal parts comforting and springy. Basically, it’s exactly what you and your wet socks need right now.Jump to Recipe
As I said, spring has been on a bit of a lag here in Toronto. We’ve only had a handful of semi-nice days and June is fast approaching. When I first moved to this city over ten years ago, I was painfully homesick. I missed Halifax every single day of my first six months here. But when spring actually sprung, I realized Toronto actually had spring. Oh, the novelty of it all!
On the East Coast, we have something more akin to slush. In light of this strange new season, I found myself starting to fall for Toronto. The springs of Toronto were really the first springs of my life. But this year I’m starting to question our relationship. Maybe Toronto isn’t the city I thought it was. Maybe the shine is off the apple and this fair city isn’t courting me the way it used to… Or it’s just a bad bought of weather. I think both are valid theories.
Now, in frigidness of this bleak mid-May, I’m still hopeful for the summer. If I know anything about Toronto I know we tend to switch seasons as quickly as flipping a switch. So, I expect summer any day now. But in the meantime, I’m cooking myself into summer mode. Perhaps if I simply overload my kitchen with every imaginable piece of produce, the weather will take the hint and get going already. See this Sweet Pea Watercress Pesto? How can you hail in the face of this lush greenness? How?
Okay, I do realize the weather doesn’t work like that. If it were as simple as reading a spring menu to the sky we’d all do it in late February. But even though I don’t control the weather (yet), I do have a small amount of power over my mood. And through all these cold, drizzly days, it does my heart good to indulge in dishes like this Chevre Fontina Mac and Cheese with Smoked Salmon and Sweet Pea Pesto.
Pesto is one of those things everyone should know how to make. I say this not because I’m a culinary snob looking to liberate the lowly masses from the jarred pestos of the world. No, I want you to make your own pesto because it’s so damn easy. And once you do it with one set of ingredients, you’re ready to do it with them all. You can switch up the herbs, the nuts, the cheese and you won’t miss a beat. Yes, whatever you’re craving you can will into pesto…well, within reason, of course. There’s no need to bring onion rings into this.
As I’m sure you know, a basic pesto is comprised of basil, pine nuts, lemon, garlic, olive oil, and parm. But there is absolutely no reason for one to live and die by this basic recipe. Add things in, make substitutions, just say no to pine nuts. For instance, today’s Sweet Pea Pesto uses walnuts in place of the pine nuts, watercress in place of basil, adds gently cooked sweet peas for fun and holds onto the lemon, garlic, olive oil, and parm. The peas did make the pesto a bit thicker in texture but honestly, you can thin it out with a little extra oil or even water if you feel like you’ve gone beyond your oil quota for the day.
The Chevre Fontina Mac and Cheese comes together as any stovetop mac and cheese would. We’re definitely not reinventing the wheel here. It’s just some decent quality pasta tossed in a simple bechamel spiked with goat cheese and fontina accented with ribbons of sweet pea pesto. It’s a freaking delicious, plain jane pasta dish and I’m not the least bit sorry about it.
I selected goat cheese for the sauce because it has a tang to it that just screams spring to me. I wish I had a more scientific reason for its addition but I do not. The fontina was selected for its superior melt-ability and because someone reminded me of its existence the other day and couldn’t get it out of my head. The smoked salmon got dragged into this because whenever I think goat cheese, smoked salmon is never far behind. It’s a cream-cheese-and-lox-thing, I guess. And yes, I’m aware that goat cheese is not the same as cream cheese and smoked salmon is not the same as lox. Please don’t send letters. I’m just saying goat cheese and smoked salmon can be pretty good pals is all.
Finally, I finished with a pile of pea shoots to emphasize the peas in the pesto and for added roughage. I like to add fresh greens to pasta dishes, particularly the creamy ones. I find the greens cut through the richness of the sauce without being too aggressive. Plus, it’s always a good idea to eat your greens – cue the insincere smile complete with tooth twinkle.
So, that is everything you need to know about this Chevre Fontina Mac and Cheese. It may not coax out the sunshine but it will make you feel slightly better about its absence.
Chevre Fontina Mac and Cheese with Sweet Pea Pesto and Smoked Salmon
- 454g (16oz) macaroni dried
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 3 tbsp flour
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 1/4 cups 2% milk
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp salt
- 150g (5oz) fontina cheese shredded
- 150g (5oz) goat cheese crumbled
- 1/2 batch Sweet Pea Watercress Pesto see below
- 7-8 sheets smoked salmon
- 1 handful pea shoots for sprinkling
Sweet Pea Watercress Pesto
- 1 1/2 cups sweet peas shelled and cooked
- 1 1/2 cups watercress tightly packed
- 2 cloves garlic peeled
- 100g (3.5 oz) unsalted walnuts coarsely chopped
- 3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shredded
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 lemon juiced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Sweet Pea Watercress Pesto
- Shell the peas and set aside. Bring a small pot of water up to a boil. Add the peas and cook until they turn bright green and rise to the surface, about 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse the peas with cold water and transfer to a large food processor.
- Add the watercress, garlic, walnuts, cheese, salt and lemon juice to the food processor and blitz until a thick paste forms.
- Set the food processor on low and slowly stream in the olive oil. Blitz until the oil is well-integrated and the mixture is silky. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and set aside until ready to use.
For the Mac & Cheese
- Bring a large pot of water up to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the package's directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large, deep skillet. Whisk in the flour to form a roux. Cook until the roux takes on a slightly warm, nutty smell, about 2 minutes.
- Whisk in the wine and slowly whisk in the milk. Stir in the salt and the Dijon mustard. Cook the sauce until thickened and bubbles form on the surface, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in the cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted and is well-integrated.
- Take the sauce off of the heat and stir half of the Sweet Pea Watercress Pesto into the sauce. Reserve the other half for future use.
- Drain and rinse the pasta and add it to the sauce. Toss to coat. Divide the pasta amongst 4 to 6 bowls. Drape one or two pieces of smoked salmon on top of the each dish and garnish with a sprinkling of pea shoots. Serve immediately.