This is admittedly a crazy, over-the-top rendition of the classic-and one of the many reasons I love Bruce’s creativity in the kitchen. Dishes like this don’t just make a book and a career; they also make a home. Who could ask for anything more?
Yield: Makes about 6 servings, if you can force people to take manageable portions
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
½ cup all purpose flour
4 cups milk (whole or low-fat; do not use fat-free)
12 ounces Gruyere, finely grated (see Notes)
1 pound smoked, wet-cured ham, chopped
One 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and squeezed of any excess moisture
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mango chutney
1 tablespoon minced tarragon leaves or 1½ teaspoons dried tarragon
12 ounces dried ziti, cooked and drained according to the package instructions
1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (see Notes)
1. Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, then whisk occasionally over the heat just until the mixture is bubbling and a very pale beige, about 2 minutes.
3. Whisk in the milk and continue whisking over the heat until thickened, about 4 minutes.
4. Drop the whisk and use a wooden spoon to stir in the Gruyere, ham, artichoke hearts, mustard, chutney, and tarragon. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cooked ziti.
5. Pour the contents of the pan into a 3-quart casserole dish, or even a 9-by-13-inch baking dish if you like more of the top exposed to the heat and many more crunchy bits as a result.
6. Sprinkle the Parrnigiano-Reggiano over the casserole and bake until brown and bubbling, about 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before serving.
The Ingredient Scoop
Gruyere is a cow’s-milk cheese originally from Switzerland but now produced all over. Beloved for its nutty, sweet flavor, it’s aged about 10 months, grates exceptionally well, and melts even better.
Parmigiano-Reggiano (Italian, pahr-MIJ-ee-AHN-oh rehj-ee-AHN-oh) is a hard Italian cheese, made from part-skim, grass-fed, raw milk produced between April 1st and November 11th of any given year. Its hard, shell-like rind should be stamped with the cheese’s name and place of origin for authenticity. Buy a chunk from a larger wheel, a chunk with the rind still attached-but the thinnest part of rind possible to cut down on any extra cost. (Once most of the cheese has been grated away, that rind can be frozen in a sealed plastic bag for up to one year and then tossed into a bean or greens soup to make the broth richer.) Grate the cheese using a microplane, a cheese grater, or the small holes of a box grater.
You don’t want the ziti falling apart in the casserole. It’s best to undercook it at first, so there’s still a little crunch left at the center of the pasta, just 4 or 5 minutes. The only way to know? Take a piece out and taste it. When you drain the ziti, don’t rinse it. Yes, it will turn into one big glob in the colander, but it will turn back apart when you stir it into the sauce; the pasta is then sticky enough to grab and hold that sauce.