Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Smoked Kielbasa “Mac” and Cheese

Creamy macaroni and cheese is a comfort-food classic all by itself—whether you use elbow macaroni or another small pasta such as mini penne, as in this recipe. Add a little smoky kielbasa and earthy leek for unexpected extra flavor.

I used only a half pound of kielbasa for six to eight servings—enough to bring additional flavor without overpowering the intended cheesiness of the dish.

Of course, a good blend of tasty cheeses is what makes mac and cheese so delicious and homey in the first place. In this recipe, I used sharp cheddar for its strong, piquant flavor; jarlsberg for its rich creaminess; and Romano for its salty bite.

Cheeses for the Pasta
Instead of whole milk, I used fat free and combined it with five ounces of evaporated milk. The sweet taste and velvety texture of evaporated milk balance well with the variety of cheeses.

Note: The resting portion of the recipe is important. The cheese sauce will be very hot, bubbly, and thin straight from the oven. It needs time to tighten and thicken before serving, so give it time.

Serves 6-8

  • 2 cups dry mini penne or elbow macaroni
  • 5 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for oiling dish
  • 1/2 lb fully cooked smoked kielbasa, cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced leek
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 1/2 cups fat-free milk
  • 1 5-oz can evaporated milk
  • 4 loose cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded jarlsberg or Swiss cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Romano cheese
Mini Penne Pasta
Cubed Smoked Kielbasa
  1. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water 6 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat in a small nonstick skillet. When the butter begins to shimmer, stir in the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until the panko begins to brown, 3-4 minutes. Remove to a small bowl and set aside.
Panko Beginning to Toast
Toasted Panko Breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the kielbasa and leek and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cook until the leek and kielbasa begin to brown, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Kielbasa and Leek Beginning to Cook
Cooked Kielbasa and Leek
  1. Heat a large, nonstick pot over medium-low heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. When the butter begins to shimmer, add the flour and whisk constantly 1-2 minutes until a light roux forms.
Cooked Roux
  1. Whisk in the milk and evaporated milk and season with salt. Increase the heat to medium and cook, whisking almost constantly, until the mixture is very hot but not boiling, 7-8 minutes.
  2. Stir in all cheeses and combine well, stirring until the cheeses are melted and the mixture is thick and creamy, 4-5 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir the kielbasa mixture into the cheese mixture. Stir in the cooked pasta and combine well.
Milk and Roux
Cheeses Melted in Pot
Kielbasa and Pasta Added to Cheese
  1. Lightly oil a 13 X 9-inch baking dish. Pour the pasta mixture into the dish and smooth to an even layer. Bake, uncovered, until beginning to brown on top, 20 minutes.
  2. Remove from the oven and scatter the toasted panko breadcrumbs on top. Return to the oven and bake 3 minutes longer.
Cheese Mixture Ready to Bake
Baked Pasta with Breadcrumb Topping
  1. Remove the dish from the oven and let rest 15 minutes. 
Divide the pasta and cheese among 6 to 8 shallow bowls. Serve right away.

Baked "Mac" and Cheese Resting


  1. Delicious! Just the kind of "comfort food" I need for tonight's dinner! Thank you...and thank you so more! :-)

  2. Thanks, Avril! Yes, nothing like mac and cheese for comfort food. So glad you enjoyed it.


    1. Your dish could use bacon