APPLES AND CHEDDAR are no strangers to one another. Cheddar cheese with apple pie is a New England tradition. A piece of sharp, savory cheese paired with a slice of fresh, sweet apple, or broiled on a piece of sourdough bread with onion and mustard is a gustatory pleasure.
McIntosh is the obvious choice for the apple in this recipe, not just for the play on words but because it has the right sweet-tart flavor to contrast with the cheese’s savory sharpness. The pieces of McIntosh provide a creamy texture distinct from both sauce and pasta. A denser apple like Cortland requires more baking time to cook completely.
Whole wheat pasta packs a more nutritional punch than the traditional processed kind, and it is more substantial, so a smaller portion suffices. I appreciate whole wheat pasta’s rich, nutty flavor, too, although when covered in cheese sauce it is indistinguishable from the plain white stuff.
For breadcrumbs we cubed 8 slices of a hearty oatmeal bread and sautéed it in a stick of butter until browned. It made a spectacular topping.
1 12-oz. box rotini or other whole grain pasta
2 New England McIntosh apples, cored and diced (3-4 c)
3 T butter
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 T flour
2½ c milk
1 bay leaf
3 c sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 T dry sherry
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 c breadcrumbs, sautéed in one stick melted butter
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole.
Boil pasta in a large saucepan according to directions. Drain and return pasta to saucepan. Add diced apples.
Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in flour; cook 1 minute.
Add milk, bringing to a gentle simmer and whisking constantly. Add bay leaf. Reduce heat to low and cook sauce for 10 more minutes, stirring often.
Discard bay leaf. Add 2½ cups cheese and the sherry, and cook until cheese is melted. Remove from heat; season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour cheese sauce into pasta-apple mixture, and transfer mixture to prepared casserole. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup cheese and top with sautéed breadcrumbs.
Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes until golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.