I can’t deny that quality matters when it comes to food. I know I’m lucky in this small town that I can buy the ingredients I can – Greek yogurt, dried currants, and free range eggs are all items that my grocery store has started carrying since we moved here last year. (Soy yogurt and King Arthur whole wheat flour are ingredients they’ve stopped carrying, unfortunately.) But there just isn’t a market here for all the ingredients I wish I could buy. And that’s why I stock up on cheese and chocolate when we visit my parents in Albuquerque.
I made this recipe once with swiss cheese I bought in the grocery store here. It might even have called itself gruyere. And the pasta was fine. Not thrilling, but nice. But I couldn’t wrap my head around how something with this combination of ingredients – pasta, fresh herbs, feta, shrimp, and gruyere – could not be thrilling.
When I tried again with gruyere I got at Whole Foods in Albuquerque, it was a whole different dish. This time it was everything I had expected originally, with bright fresh lemon and dill, sweet shrimp, and pungent gruyere melted around swirls of pasta. Just like the good coffee is less acidic and good chocolate tastes deeper, good cheese makes better macaroni and cheese.
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
10 ounces feta cheese, crumbled and divided
zest of 1 lemon, divided
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped, divided
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound pasta
1 pound raw shrimp (31-40 ct.), peeled and deveined, cut in half (if desired)
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a small bowl, combine the panko, a quarter of the feta, a pinch of lemon zest, 2 teaspoons of the parsley and 1 tablespoon of the butter, melted. Toss with a fork to combine; set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package directions. Drain, then transfer the pasta back to the cooking pot. Add the raw shrimp to the warm pasta; combine.
3. In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat; whisk in the flour. Cook 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly, until light golden brown. Whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the sauce bubbles and thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the remaining feta, Gruyere, remaining parsley, remaining lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the pasta and shrimp; stir well to coat.
4. Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased 2½ or 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.