Jacques Pépin did this macaroni, spinach, and ham gratin recipe with his granddaughter Shorey. The cookbook A Grandfather’s Lessons – In the Kitchen with Shorey tells the beautiful story. In the book, we find that Jacques’s macaroni and cheese recipe is a dish with flavorful additions that would make any child happy.
So, if you have grandchildren, this is a great recipe to make with them. This SFH Test Kitchen post and the linked YouTube video will show you how to do it.
Hello, my friends.
It’s important as grandparents to spend time with your grandchildren and teach them how to how to cook. You know, it’s just a wonderful sharing experience. Here’s just one memorable example from over 20 years ago.
My Junior Chef Masters Chocolate Chip Cookies
When my first grandson was two, he and I made cookies together. It was such a beautiful experience for both of us.
Here is my junior chef with a chocolate chip cookies recipe in hand. As you can see, he has already put on his apron and is ready to head to the kitchen. – He intends to master that recipe.
When cooking with your grandchildren, keep in mind that the world is a bigger place for them than it is for you. However, what they lack in size, they will make up for with enthusiasm. – Let them feel like the kitchen belongs to them.
Your grandchild will learn how to cook by watching you. They see how you read directions from the recipe. When you pick up a bag of chocolate chips, they will do the same. Sometimes they will even copy your facial expressions. – Judging from my grandson’s expression here, I must have really had some concerns about what to do with these chips.
When you’re cooking with your grandchildren, remember, the kitchen is not a classroom where you have to be. The kitchen is the heart of the home and a place where you want to be.
When all is said and done, the truly magic moment is when your grandchildren taste something they made with their own hands.
That is a moment that both of you will cherish and remember forever.
Jacques’s Macaroni and Cheese Test Results
Unfortunately, no grandchildren were available for this Test Kitchen adventure. That meant I had to work with my dear Hubby. Although he has some childlike characteristics, I wouldn’t say he’s a good substitute for any of my 13 beautiful grandchildren. Nevertheless, he did his best. – That might be because macaroni and cheese is one of his favorite dishes.
Here’s what the able staff of the soon-to-be-world-famous SFH Test Kitchen learned during this test.
1. Level of the Challenge
This is not a difficult recipe. It is well-suited to a youthful palate. A young person can easily grasp the approach Jacques and Shorey used with this dish.
2. Selection of Good-quality Ingredients
Most of the ingredients used are commonly found in the kitchen or easily attainable. The only exception in Jacques’s recipe was Spanish Paprika. In a case like this, you can provide your grandchild with a simple explanation about an unusual ingredient.
For example: Paprika is a spice made from dried and ground chiles. In Spain, the name for paprika is pimentón, which is Spanish for pepper. If you use Spanish paprika instead of regular paprika, it will add a smoky flavor to the dish.
3. Use of Cooking Techniques
For sure, this recipe employs several cooking techniques not used in a simple chocolate chip cookies recipe. You are the best judge of your grandchild’s abilities. You can decide if this recipe is too advanced or just right for your junior chef.
4. Development of Macaroni and Cheese Taste and Flavor
The introduction of spinach and ham bring a new dimension in flavor to the classic comfort food we call mac and cheese. Because the spinach is chopped and blended in with the other ingredients, children won’t really think of this as a vegetable dish.
How to Cook Macaroni and Cheese Jacques’s Way
So, without further ado, here is Jacques’s recipe as adapted and tested by the SFH Test Kitchen.
The original recipe appears on page 114 of the cookbook A Grandfather’s Lessons – In the Kitchen with Shorey. The cookbook was written by Jacques Pépin in collaboration with his granddaughter, Shorey. It contains recipes that are simple, elegant, and fun to prepare.
Macaroni, Spinach, and Ham Gratin
- 1 Large saucepan
- 1 Medium saucepan
- 1 Colander
- 1 Large bowl
- 1 Small bowl
- 1 Whisk
- 1 4-cup gratin dish
- 4 ounces elbow macaroni
- 4 ounces about 4 cups, loosely packed spinach, washed and chopped
- 4 ounces boiled ham cut into strips or cubes (about ¾ cup)
- 4 ounces aged Vermont cheddar cheese grated (1½ cups)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
- ½ teaspoon paprika Jacques uses Spanish paprika in his recipe.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil extra-virgin
FOR THE PASTA:
- Bring 2½ quarts salted water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the macaroni, bring back to a boil, and cook for 6 to 7 minutes. The pasta should still be firm (al dente).
- Drain the pasta and rinse in a colander under cold water to cool it to room temperature, then place it in a large bowl.
FOR THE HAM & SPINACH
- Cut the ham into strips or cubes (about ¾ of a cup)
- Place the chopped spinach in a bowl and heat it in a microwave oven for 2 to 3 minutes, to wilt it.
- Cool for 10 minutes, then mix the spinach with the pasta.
- Add the ham, grated cheese, salt, and pepper and mix with pasta.
FOR THE SAUCE:
- Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.
- Add the oil and flour and mix well with a whisk.
- Cook for 30 seconds, then add the milk, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally with the whisk, until the milk comes to a boil.
- Cook for about 30 seconds, then mix with the pasta.
FOR THE TOPPING:
- Mix all the topping ingredients in a small bowl.
- Arrange the pasta mixture in a 4-cup gratin dish and sprinkle on the topping. (The gratin can be covered with plastic wrap and set aside until ready to cook.)
- At cooking time, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake the gratin for 25 to 30 minutes, or until browned on top and hot throughout.