Yes, this baked maccheroni* casserole is essentially mac and cheese, but on a whole different level -- as with much Italian food, it's a simple preparation, but with quality ingredients that make all the difference. It's a quick, easy, and immensely satisfying dish which can easily be a main course when paired with a green salad or any other vegetable side.
- Any short, tubular pasta will work fine in this recipe: rigatoni, penne, ziti, paccheri, ditaloni, sedani, tortiglioni, etc. For ideas, visit the (Pasta Shapes Gallery).
- You can substitute any other hard or semi-soft cheese that lends itself well to melting for the Emmentaler. Asiago, Fontina, Bel Paese, a fresh or young (semi-stagionato) Pecorino, Gruyère, Gouda or (if you can find it) a French Basque sheep's cheese called Ossau-Iraty would all work wonderfully.
- You can substitute baked or boiled ham for the mortadella.
- Add in 1/2 cup of blanched green peas (or any other half-cooked vegetable that strikes your fancy) at the same time as the mortadella and cheese cubes.
*Note: While in the U.S. macaroni generally brings to mind a specific pasta shape (namely small, curved elbow macaroni), in Italy it is more of a generic term for any tubular, hollow pasta, short or long, and it's a more common type of pasta in the south of Italy -- Naples, for example.
- 7 ounces (200 g) mortadella cut into 1/4-inch (5-mm) wide strips
- 2 ounces (50 g) Emmentaler (Swiss) cheese
- 3/4 cup (2 dl) cream
- 3 ounces (80 g) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 3/4 lb (350 g) short, tubular pasta (rigatoni or sedani or any similar shape would work well)
Preheat an oven to 390 degrees Fahrenheit (200 Celsius) and set a large, covered pot of salted water to boil over high heat (see this article for pasta-cooking tips).
Cut the mortadella and cheese into small cubes, then place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the cream, 2 ounces (two thirds) of the grated Parmigiano, and the salt, white pepper, and the nutmeg.
When the water comes to a rolling boil, cook the pasta halfway, then drain it thoroughly and add it to the mixing bowl with the mortadella and cheese mixture.
Mix to combine all ingredients well, then transfer everything to a large, buttered baking dish.
Sprinkle the casserole with the remaining grated Parmigiano and bake until the top is crisp and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.