Love spinach & artichoke dip? This baked pasta is for you. A big, bubbly pan of cheesy goodness, this recipe is a combination of the beloved party dip and another cherished comfort food: macaroni 'n' cheese. A few ounces of cream cheese adds a pleasing tang to the sauce, while white cheddar lends a satisfying sharpness and Monterey Jack gives you that sought after cheese pull. A touch of lemon zest complements the kale and briny bites of marinated artichokes—plus, who doesn't love a golden, crunchy blanket of breadcrumbs on top?
Recipe, food styling and photography by Asha Loupy. This recipe was originally published on March 3, 2020.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a large baking dish (about 9x13 inches) and set aside.
Bring a large pot of abundantly salted water to a boil. Add the kale and stir to make sure the greens are submerged. Boil until bright green and tender, about 5-6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the kale from the water and transfer to a bowl. When the kale is cool enough to touch, squeeze all the excess water out of the leaves, roughly chop and set aside.
Bring the pot of water the greens cooked in back to a boil, add the pasta and cook until 60% cooked, about 5 minutes if using Rustichella d'Abruzzo's Saragolla Rigatoncini. Drain, spread on a sheet pan and set aside while you make the sauce.
To make the cheese sauce, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and season with one teaspoon of the salt and black pepper. Sauté until the leeks are soften and begin to turn translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and the remaining tablespoon of butter, and continue to cook until the garlic softens and becomes fragrant, about one more minute. Add the all-purpose flour, stirring to combine and cook for another 2 minutes.
Add the milk in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously, until all of it is incorporated. Bring to a simmer and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 3-4 minutes. The sauce may look a little thin, but it will thicken with the addition of the cheese and will continue to thicken while baking.
Turn off the heat under the sauce and add the lemon zest and cream cheese, whisking until it's smooth. Return the reserved pasta and chopped kale to the pot you used to cook them in. Pour in the bechamel sauce and the grated cheeses and stir to combine. Add the artichoke wedges and gently fold them in, being careful not to break them up completely. Transfer the dressed pasta to the reserved buttered baking dish and spread into an even layer.
In a small bowl, mix the panko breadcrumbs, remaining half teaspoon of salt and extra virgin olive oil together. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the pasta. Place the baking dish on an aluminium foil-lined tray (just in case the sauce bubbles over) and bake until the pasta is cooked through, the sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. If the breadcrumbs are not turning as golden as you would like, finish the pasta under the broiler during the last few minutes of cooking. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.