Something happens the moment I twist open a bottle of a spice or an herb and the fragrance hits my nose.  I’m taken back to my Mom’s kitchen where the child version of myself lingers as she cooks.  I can almost taste the food on my tongue.  This is what makes cooking so compelling. The smells and tastes stay with us forever. Then, when we come across them again, even much later into adulthood, that tie to our past, our parents and families, becomes so tangible.
 
To me, dinner time is the best part of every day. It’s that moment we all come together to share both the good and bad. I know we all have those dishes that remind us of family and of home. You may remember my recipe for Macaroni au Four, a baked macaroni dish. Pure comfort food that I make anytime anyone in the family needs a little extra love and a taste of home. It is a favorite of both of my kids. My son asks for it every single time he’s home from college, so I make it fairly often. When my daughter made the decision to stop eating meat a few years ago, the one thing she missed was the original version of this dish. It has a really unique ground meat center, spiced with a bit of allspice. Whenever I made this, I’d make one small casserole for her with just the macaroni in béchamel. She loved it, but it was missing that wonderful flavor of the allspice. She is a huge fan of mushrooms, so one day, recreated the dish substituting mushrooms for the meat. It was incredible. It has become a regular on our dinner table.

Baked Macaroni and Mushrooms - macaroni and deeply browned mushrooms baked in a creamy béchamel sauce. Wonderful comfort food. | From @tasteLUVnourish on www.tasteloveandnourish.com

I use McCormick spices, just as my Mom did when I was young. Two key flavors in this dish are McCormick’s allspice and nutmeg. I use allspice a lot. I love it paired with meat. It has a warm, slightly sweet flavor with a really distinctive scent. Nutmeg, too, has a warm and almost sweet taste and is essential when making the perfect béchamel. Use it sparingly, but as soon as you stir it in, you’ll taste the subtle difference it can make.

Do you have your own secret spices or herbs you use in a family recipe, too? Share your stories and recipes below as part of McCormick’s American Homemade program. You may also want to head over to McCormick’s page and create a FlavorPrint account. I’ve created my own FlavorPrint profile and have found some really wonderful new recipes based on my flavor preferences. FlavorPrint is a tool that provides recipes and recipe ideas based on a few questions you’ll answer about tastes, foods and flavors you love. The more you use FlavorPrint, the more familiar it becomes with your preferences. Sign up now to find recipes you and your family will love. It’s fun!

Baked Macaroni and Mushrooms

Mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
16 ounces mushrooms, stems trimmed and sliced
1 large shallot, finely diced, about 1/3 cup
1/2 teaspoon McCormick allspice
salt and pepper to taste

Bechamel
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all purpose flour
4 1/4 cups warm milk
1/4 teaspoon McCormick ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Pasta
1 pound penne pasta (I use mini penne)
sea salt

In a 12 inch sauté pan over medium heat, combine the olive oil and the mushrooms. Continue cooking until the mushrooms begin to brown. Add the shallots. Continue cooking until the mushrooms are a deep brown (see Notes) and the shallots have softened. Add the allspice, salt and pepper.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to get too much color. Whisk in the warm milk and increase the heat to medium high. Once the sauce begins to gently boil, reduce the heat and cook for about 5 minutes, whisking frequently. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to assemble.

In a large pot, bring about 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add the sea salt and the pasta. Refer to the package for cooking time. Stir frequently, until the pasta is cooked to al dente. Drain in a colander and assemble with the other ingredients immediately.

In a large, lightly greased casserole dish, spread about 1/2 cup of the béchamel followed by half of the pasta. Next, add all of the mushroom mixture and spread evenly over the pasta. Add the remaining half of the pasta and spread it evenly over the top. Pour the béchamel over the pasta covering the entire casserole. Sprinkle the Parmesan lightly on top.

Bake in the oven uncovered for about 40 minutes or until golden brown on top. Allow to sit for at least five minutes before serving.

Baked Macaroni and Mushrooms - macaroni and deeply browned mushrooms baked in a creamy béchamel sauce. Wonderful comfort food. | From @tasteLUVnourish on www.tasteloveandnourish.com

    Notes:

  • When cooking the mushrooms, you’ll want to get them quite brown. That is how you’ll get the most flavor from them and it will prevent them from watering down your casserole. One important key is to never salt them until the very end when they are their deepest brown. The salt can draw the moisture out if added too early and will make it hard to cook them properly.
  • If you do not have shallots, go ahead and use half of a medium onion. It will still be fabulous!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of McCormick. I was compensated for my work. All opinions and text are one hundred percent my own.