|If only everything that smelled this terrible looked so beautiful.|
But enough about stinky trees, let's talk about some good ol' mac and cheese (notice I could have said stinky cheese, but resisted. Giving myself a pat on the back for that one.) I had an order of apple and sausage mac and cheese at a German (Bavarian, to be precise) restaurant near my university about 5 years ago, and couldn't get over how delicious it was. I only ever had it twice, though, because it was a very pricey restaurant and I, a lowly college student, was mostly sustaining myself on ramen and trader joe's frozen Indian food to save money. But both times I was able to eat that mac and cheese it was consistently AMAZING, so much so that the flavor combination seared itself into my brain.
The cold weather we were having up until this weekend set me into hot-cheesy mode, and I remembered how much I loved that dish and decided to try and recreate it here. I used this recipe from Ina Garten (she is the best) as the base for the mac and cheese, but altered it a bit to accommodate the addition of apple sauce and apple sausage, and omitted the tomatoes. The result was a salty, creamy, spiced, and slightly sweet hot mess of deliciousness. Super comforting, super rich, and super not healthy, it makes the winter months much more bearable.
1 lb Conchiglie Pasta, or other elbow macaroni
3/4 lb Pork, Turkey, or Chicken Apple Sausage, removed from casings
3 and 1/3 Cups Whole Milk
1 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
12 Ounces Gruyere Cheese, grated, 1/2 cup of it set aside for garnish
8 Ounces Cheddar Cheese, grated
1/2 Cup Flour
6 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Pinch of Cinnamon
Pinch of Ground Cloves
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the apple sausage and cook until it is just cooked all the way through, breaking it apart into smaller pieces with the end of a wooden spoon while it's cooking. Bring a pot of water to a boil and prepare the pasta according to the package's directions. When it is done, drain it well, drizzle it with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and shake it around a bit in the strainer to keep the pieces from getting stuck to each other.
While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, heat the milk and applesauce in a medium-sized saucepan over medium low heat until hot, but do not bring it to a boil, stirring every 3 minutes. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat and whisk in the flour right after it is completely melted. Continue heating the butter/flour mixture for two minutes, whisking all the while. Then whisk the hot milk and applesauce into the butter mixture and cook for two more minutes, still whisking. The mixture should begin to thicken at this point.
Remove the dutch oven from the heat and stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, gruyere (except the 1/2 cup), cheddar, and the apple sausage pieces until evenly distributed. Add the cooked pasta and stir until the pasta is covered in the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of the grated gruyere over the mac and cheese, and sprinkle a pinch of extra pepper over the top if you'd like (gives it a nice finished look). Place the pan in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the macaroni on top just begins to turn golden brown at the tips. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.