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  • Writer's pictureTommy Centola

Great side dishes for celebrations Thursday (4th of July)

It’s almost time for America’s 243rd birthday party on July 4th. I find that most people celebrate the 4th two ways, either with a picnic or with a backyard barbecue. Since I have already shared some recipes for a picnic, today I want to focus on the barbecue.

Traditional barbecues feature chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs. Since this is the 4th, I see no reason not to include these grilled items. What I want to share with you today are two side dishes that goes great with any of these meats: Cajun Mac and Cheese with Tasso and Mardi Gras Pasta Salad. While both of these dishes go well with any meal, I feel they really shine at a cookout.

Bacon is an ingredient that is popping up in many different recipes. A few years ago, I received my issue of Food Network magazine. On the cover of their cheese issue was a Bacon Mac and Cheese. It reminded me of one of my twist on this dish, Cajun Mac and Cheese with Tasso.

Tasso is a little chewier than the crisp bacon. If you want a little crunch, add some Panko breadcrumbs on top before baking.

Cajun Mac and Cheese with Tasso

1 pound cooked macaroni

1 stick butter

1 pound smoked pork tasso, diced

1/4 cup flour

1 pint heavy cream

1 cup milk

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated

2 cups sharp Cheddar, grated

2 cups mild Cheddar, grated and divided

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 large roasted red peppers, diced

2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (optional)

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a heavy-bottomed large saucepan, over medium-high heat, melt the stick of butter and add the diced tasso. Cook the tasso until the edges are crispy and it has browned slightly. Add the flour and cook for a minute or two, until the flour has fully incorporated and darkened a bit.

Add the cream and stir constantly, until very thick. Add the milk, whisk over high heat until thickened, about 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and add half of the grated Gruyere. Stir until mixed then add the other half of the Gruyere, and continue with the sharp cheddar, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously. Then add half of the grated mild cheddar, reserving the last cup for the topping. Once all the cheese has blended in, add the mustard, nutmeg, and diced roasted peppers.

Combine the cheese sauce with the cooked macaroni. Place in a 9 x 13 baking pan and top with reserved cheese, sprinkle with Creole Seasoning Blend and red pepper flakes and bake until the top is browned and bubbly, approximately 20 minutes.

Don’t think that Mardi Gras Pasta Salad is only served during the carnival season. It gets its name from the Mardi Gras colors on the ingredients: purple from the purple cabbage, green from the green onions, and gold from the corn. It’s a great addition to a meal anytime of the year, especially at a 4th of July cookout.

Mardi Gras Pasta Salad

1 pounds fusilli pasta

1/2 cup shredded purple cabbage

1 cup whole kernel corn

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

1 cup mayonnaise (more or less to taste)

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon dried basil

Creole seasoning to taste

Cook the pasta in boiling water according to the package directions. Drain thoroughly and place in a large mixing bowl. In a skillet, melt the butter and sauté the corn for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the corn, cabbage and green onions to the pasta. Add the mayonnaise, a little at a time, and toss to coat evenly. Add the mustard, basil and Creole seasoning. Toss gently. Served at room temperature or chilled.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful 4th of July. Even if the weather does not cooperate, you now have two side dishes to help you celebrate. Happy Birthday America!

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