Broccoli and Pasta Gratin with Crunchy Almond Topping

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This dish is something between Mac and Cheese and Broccoli Gratin. It’s lighter than the first, richer than the second and absolutely delicious. I’m a real fan of Mac and Cheese but who needs all that fat if you can get away with half of it. This is not exactly “light”, but it does contain far less cheese than your average Mac and Cheese. Plus the addition of such a nutritious and tasty veggie like broccoli, makes me momentarily forget about all the calories. The topping is really the wow factor. Every bite is deliciously creamy but also crunchy and aromatic with the subtle taste of almonds and a hint of lemon. 

brocoli and pasta gratin.jpg

Ingredients

  • 1 medium broccoli, cut into large florets
  • 500 grams “Mitsides” shrimp shaped pasta
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • ¼ cup “Mitsides” plain flour (red pack)
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • ½ cup cream
  • 1 tsp dry mustard powder
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the crunchy topping

  • ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • ¼ cup raw almonds, ground in a blender
  • 2 Tbs parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 2 tsp lemon zest

Method

Preheat oven to 175 C.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli florets and cook for 5-6 minutes until cooked but not mushy. Remove florets with a slotted spoon, into a bowl containing iced water. This will stop the broccoli from cooking and it will help retain its bright green colour. Drain and chop roughly into bite size pieces. Set aside in a bowl until needed.

In the same water you boiled the broccoli add the “Mitsides” pasta. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Put pasta in a ceramic, gratin pan. Add the chopped broccoli and mix.

In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook until fragrant and beginning to colour. Add the milk, cream and mustard powder. Use a whisk to mix everything together making sure the flour dissolves and the sauce is smooth. Bring to boil and simmer sauce until it starts to thicken and coats the back of spoon. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour white sauce over pasta and broccoli. Add the cheddar cheese and mix everything well together. At this stage you can let the gratin cool, then cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours before baking.

Make the topping. In a small frying pan add the breadcrumbs and the olive oil over medium-high heat. Mix well with a spatula so that the oil coats all the breadcrumbs. Cook stirring for 2-3 minutes until breadcrumbs begin to colour slightly. Remove from heat and spread them to cool on a plate. When cool mix with the remaining ingredients.

Sprinkle the topping on top of the gratin. Bake for 30 minutes until bubbly. Serve at once with a leafy green salad.

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