Spring Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese

SPRING VEGETABLE MACARONI & CHEESE
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1 bunch (about 12 oz.) asparagus
2 medium leeks
4½ Tbs butter
1½ tsp salt
12 ounces dried orecchiette pasta
¾ cup frozen petite peas
2 slices sourdough bread
3 Tbs flour
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
3 cups milk
2 tsp grated lemon peel
1 Tbs dijon mustard
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 ounces fresh chèvre (goat cheese)
1½ cups shredded romano cheese, divided

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. Snap tough ends off asparagus; cut into ½-inch pieces. Cut root ends and tough green tops from leeks; cut leeks in half lengthwise and rinse well under running water, then thinly slice crosswise.

3. In a medium pan over medium-high heat, stir the asparagus with the leeks, 1 Tablespoon butter, and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook until the asparagus is just tender, about 7 minutes, then remove from pan and set aside.

4. In a large pan over high heat, bring about 3 quarts water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions; stir in peas at the end. Drain and return to pan.

5. Meanwhile, tear bread into chunks and put in a food processor with ½ Tablespoon butter. Whirl until crumbs form.

6. In the medium pan over medium-high heat, melt remaining 3 Tablespoons butter. Add the flour and thyme; stir until smooth and bubbling, about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk in milk and stir to boiling and thickened, 5 to 8 minutes. Add lemon peel, mustard, pepper, and remaining teaspoon salt. Remove from heat and add goat cheese and 1 cup romano; stir until smooth.

7. Pour sauce over drained pasta and peas. Add asparagus mixture and stir well. Scrape mixture into a 2½-quart baking dish and spread level. Sprinkle evenly with remaining ½ cup romano and the bread crumbs. Bake until sauce is bubbling and bread crumbs are browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

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