So yes, this dish. It had been dancing around in my head for quite some time before I actually made it happen. I'd been thinking back to some of my favorite foods growing up. There were certain meals that I always looked forward to. Chicken a la King, Chicken Pot Pie, Chicken Noodle Soup, Chicken Cordon Bleu...and I loved it when I heard my dad pounding out some chicken in the kitchen. That meant we were having either Chicken Cordon Bleu or Pepperoni Chicken Rolls. Hmmmm, I sense a theme here.
The funny thing is, even though these are some of my favorite childhood meals, I don't find myself making them very often for my own kids. What's wrong with me? I mean, chicken noodle soup and chicken pot pie are fairly regular, but none of the others. When I mentioned chicken cordon bleu, my kids looked at me without recognition registering on their faces. I mean, surely I'd made it once or twice before. Right? I racked my brain and think the last time I made it, my 17-year old was about 3 or 4. That meant that he didn't remember, and my two younger ones had never tried it. #momfail
I mentioned that the idea had been swirling around for a while—I really wanted to take the flavors of this classic dish and transform it into a mac and cheese. So, I did. And it was a pretty darn brilliant idea, if I do say so myself; it was exactly what I was picturing. Chunks of tender chicken and thin strips of deli ham folded into a pasta and eveloped in a cheese sauce made with a combination of swiss, gruyere, and a hint of dijon mustard. It's covered in a golden bread crumb mixture, because to forget the breading that topped off the dish would be tragic.
Maybe next time I'll actually try making them the dish I loved so much as a kid. You know, sans deconstruction.
Chicken Cordon Bleu Mac and Cheese
This comforting mac and cheese, studded with chicken and ham and topped with bread crumbs, is a twist on one of my favorite childhood dishes, Chicken Cordon Bleu.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Keywords: entree nut-free soy-free sugar-free chicken ham pasta cheese
Ingredients (serves 8)
- 1 pound bucatini, cavatappi, large elbows (or similar pasta)
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 4 ounces swiss cheese, shredded
- 4 ounces gruyere cheese, shredded
- 4 ounces fontinella cheese, shredded
- 2 heaping cups of cooked chicken breast (from ~1 pound raw), chopped
- 4 ounces deli-sliced ham, rolled and sliced thinly
- 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Preheat oven to 350° F. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain.
In the meantime, place 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep-sided saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour until smooth. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth, then add the dijon mustard, onion powder, salt and pepper. Let simmer for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and whisk in the cheese until, once again, smooth. Add the drained pasta, as well as the chicken and ham and stir until everything is well coated and combined.
If you're not using an oven-safe dish, pour into a very large (10-12") cast-iron skillet or 9"x13" pan.
Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat until melted. Stir in bread crumbs and smoked paprika until coated and starting to turn golden; this will only take a few minutes. Scatter it evenly over the macaroni and cheese.
Place pan in preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are browned and the mixture is bubbling at the edges.
Remove from oven, let sit for 5 minutes before serving.