Smokey, Cheesey Pasta Bake

 This started out life as a posh macaroni cheese but it developed as I was delving through cupboards and vegetable drawers. So here we have it, a fish and veg packed tray of delicious comfort food…… perfect for a winter fireside night after a long day or as a power lunch before heading out to the sports pitch.

This pasta gives a nutrient rich source of carbohydrate which young athletes need to fuel their muscles during exercise. It will sustain their energy and the high fibre content will mean they digest it more slowly and release much needed glucose into their systems over a longer period. In short, these high quality carbs fuel their bodies better for longer.

A big slab of fish, hidden vegetables and a tasty, creamy sauce make for happy parents and well nourished children. I have used wholegrain spelt penne for the base and creamed leeks and spinach into the cheese sauce for body and vitamins. Smoked fish (I have used cod loin here but you could just as well use haddock or similar) snuggles incognito amongst the pasta giving a wonderful flavour and a good hit of Omega 3’s.

This is a good opportunity to use up any odd bits of cheese in the fridge but don’t scrimp on the flavour or quality as the cheese is the star of the show here.

This recipe makes 2 family servings – one for now, another for the freezer. When you come to revive it, defrost thoroughly and warm gently in the oven for half an hour.

It may seem like a load of sauce here but this is not the time to be serving up a miserable, dry concoction to your family – the vegetable cheese sauce tastes a lot more guilty than it actually is. Serve with a fluffy green salad if you can get away with it.

Smokey, Cheesey Pasta Bake – Makes 2 x Family Dishes

500g wholegrain spelt macaroni/penne

400g responsibly sourced smoked fish

2 litres semi skimmed milk

2 x leeks, chopped

1/2 head cauliflower florets (optional)

2 x cloves garlic, minced

200g smoked pancetta/lardons, cubed

1 glass white wine

1 heaped tbsp wholemeal flour

300g mature cheddar cheese, grated

1 tsp wholegrain mustard

1 tsp smoked paprika

Chilli flakes (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Heat the oven to 180dg (Gas 6).

Pop the fish in a large saucepan and cover with all the milk. Leave to simmer gently until the fish is just cooked and falling into flakes. Remove the fish with a slotted spoon and divide between the two waiting baking dishes. Hold the leftover milk on the side for later.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta in a large pan of salted water to the packet instructions and drain. Divide between the dishes also.

In a large heavy saucepan or wok, cook the pancetta cubes/lardons off until they have taken on a good colour. Remove with a slotted spoon and divide between the dishes.

Throw the leeks and garlic into the pan (and cauliflower if you are using) and cook gently until they brighten in colour and soften. Pour over the wine and reduce for a couple of minutes. Stir in the flour and cook off for a minute. Now add 1/4 of the milk and all the grated cheese and stir to combine. As the sauce thickens, continue to add the rest of the milk.

When this is all nice and silky, get a hand whisk and liquidise the leek cheese sauce until velvety and a uniform colour. Add the paprika, ground black pepper and mustard and chilli flakes if you want a little additional “kick”.  Stir together and add the spinach leaves into the sauce to wilt.

Pour the sauce over the fish and pasta in the waiting baking dishes and gently stir the ingredients to combine the colours evenly.

At this stage you can either cool and freeze or pop into the oven to warm for 20 minutes before you serve.

 

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