I like this cheese combo because the sharp cheddar adds that classic cheese taste and texture, and the asiago gives it some real depth and a nutty flavor. Next I melted six tablespoons of light butter over medium-high heat (this is the only concession I made, but light butter works just fine here) and whisked in a third of a cup of flour:
You don’t want this to brown, so just make sure it is well combined. Next, whisk in 2-3 cups of milk. I am giving a range here because if you like a saucier end product you should use more milk and make a thinner white sauce, and I used two cups for reasons noted below. I don’t recommend skim milk but lowfat will work. Whisk until smooth and bubbly.
When the sauce has thickened and bubbled, reduce the heat to low and start adding in the cheeses a cup a time, stirring after each addition. The cheese doesn’t have to be fully melted in, and you can turn off the heat all together for the last two cups.
At this point I whisked in a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a quarter of a teaspoon of ground chipotle pepper, a half teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of smoked paprika, and a teaspoon of ground mustard. Now your sauce is complete. Pour in a pound of almost-cooked, drained pasta–I slightly undercook the pasta so it doesn’t get too mushy as it bakes:
Spoon this into a large baking pan (a nine by thirteen will work) that you have coated with cooking spray. In a small bowl, stir together a quarter cup of bread crumbs with a half cup of grated, aged cheese (I used Grana Padano). Sprinkle this evenly over the top for a crunchy crust. If you are not into the crunch factor, omit this step and instead sprinkle on some additional cheddar.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until the crumbs have browned a bit and there are bubbly cheese volcanoes cropping up all through the pasta. Remove and cool slightly before serving.
I used a small penne for this because I like how it sucks up the cheese sauce, and I used only two cups of milk because, well, I forgot to go to the store 🙁 I prefer the three-cup, saucier version, but this was still gosh-darn tasty. If you want to shake up your holiday table a bit and also have another vegetarian option, this is a nice addition.
Thanks for reading,