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.
I make this whenever we are craving comfort food, just as my Mom did when I was young. Two key flavors in this dish are 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.
Baked Macaroni and Mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
16 ounces mushrooms, stems trimmed and sliced
1 large shallot, finely diced, about 1/3 cup
1/2 teaspoon allspice
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all purpose flour
4 1/4 cups warm milk
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
1 pound penne pasta (I use mini penne)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
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 at 375 degrees, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until golden brown on top. Allow to sit for at least five minutes before serving.
- 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!
Amy @ Elephant Eats
Holy cow this looks amazing! I love pasta, mushrooms and cheese so this dish is right up my alley ;)
Christie - Food Done Light
I love the flavor of nutmeg in a bechamel sauce. I know my family would love this dish. We are mushroom fantatics.
I love the nutmeg too, Christie. It’s very subtle, but makes a big difference.
Such a great idea – adding the mushrooms! The allspice sure kicks it up a notch too!
Thank you Ginny!
Dorothy at Shockingly Delicious
Just INCREDIBLE! I adore allspice and nutmeg and this has my name on it. Can I come to dinner next time your son is home from college?
Hahaha…YES! I’ll set a place for you, Dorothy! Thanks so much…you made my day!