December 17, 2010

Christmas Baked Macaroni

Do you ever have those days where everything just seems to go right? You wake up before your alarm goes off and you immediately feel awake and refreshed, ready to take on the day. You head to take your last exam of the semester as snow begins to blanket the beautiful grounds of UVA, making the lawn even more enchanting than usual. Your favorite chocolate turtle late is perfection; the chocolate to caramel ratio mastered, with a slight hint of espresso in the background. You feel uber confident waiting for your exam as others around you shuffle through notes and try to remember last minute facts. You leave your exam knowing you "rocked" it, and make your way home once again through the accumulating snow. And then, it's time to go home and you don't think it can get any better: but it does.

While the drive home was snowy and at points treacherous, it was an absolutely beautiful sight. The snow blanketing the farms, fields, and vineyards as you navigate the back roads. And upon your arrival at home, the sense of comfort and love overwhelms you; a fantastic feeling indeed. Shortly followed by putting the finishing touches on the Christmas decorations, a few ornaments here and there on the tree now it really can't get any better: but, nevertheless, it still does.

A brisk sunset run in the snow through the battlefield awakens your senses, and amplifies your happiness of being home for a whole month. The snow covered road, flakes still falling, and deer off in distance all seem truly magical. And then you go home and make a delicious dinner, piping hot out of the oven with hints of roasted tomatoes, sweet spinach and savory nutmeg, it's divine.

Christmas Baked Macaroni

For macaroni
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked al dente
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed then chopped
4 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and drained of excess water
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese (divided in half)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (divided in half)
2 cups fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup bread crumbs

To Assemble:

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 9x13 inch baking dish.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes, spinach and red pepper flakes, crushing them in your hands as you add to release the oils. Use a spatula to combine, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.
After the macaroni is cooked to al dente, return to the cooking pot. Add the vegetable mixture, 1/4 cup Romano cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, all of the mozzarella, and nutmeg. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and remaining Parmesan and Romano cheeses on top. Drizzle with olive oil and place some pats of butter on top to ensure a beautifully golden and crisp topping. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the top has achieved golden brown perfection.

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