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Apple Cheddar Penne Pie

Or as I’ve decided to call it: Fancy Pants Mac n’ Cheese. I love everything about this dinner. First of all, anything that I get to eat as a main dish with “pie” in the title is awesome in my book. I’ve always heard how great cheese is on top of apple pie (but never been daring enough to try it myself). This cheesy pasta has apple chunks mixed in so it works off that same pairing. And it is incredible. Finally, I like using all my kitchen pans. I hate to think  any of them are lonely in the cupboards. My springform pan is generally relegated to cheesecakes, but got to participate in dinner tonight. Chalk one up for the little-used pan!

The tart apples balance out the rich creamy goodness of two kinds of cheese in this dish. I used an extra sharp cheddar to make sure there was enough bite to go along with the lush cream cheese. Yummy!!

Just look at that. Mmmm. Gorgeous. The crunch of the panko around the edges is just perfect.

Yum. Yummy. Enjoy!

Apple Cheddar Penne Pie
from BHG “Make and Take” cookbook

2 tablespoons butter, softened
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
3 teaspoons snipped fresh thyme
12 ounces dried penne pasta (3 1/2 cups)
2 cups chopped, peeled tart cooking apples (3 medium)
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion, such as Walla Walla
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup apple cider
6 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut up
1 1/2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese (6 ounces)
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 10-inch springform pan with 1 tablespoon of the softened butter. Sprinkle sides of pan with 1/3 cup of the panko to coat; set aside. Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon softened butter. Stir the remaining 1/3 cup panko and 1 teaspoon of the thyme into melted butter; set aside.
2. Cook pasta 2 minutes less than directed by package directions; drain. Return pasta to pan; set aside.
3. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan cook apples and onion in the 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat for 5-8 minutes or until tender. Add flour, salt, and pepper to saucepan. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Stir in milk and apple cider. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat to low. Add cheeses and the remaining 2 teaspoons of thyme; stir until cheese melts.
4. Add sauce mixture to pasta; stir to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with reserved panko mixture.
5. Bake, uncovered about 40 minutes or until edges are bubbly. Let stand on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove sides of pan. Using a serated knife, cut pie into eight wedges. If desired, top with fresh thyme sprigs. Makes 8 servings.

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