Chicken Cordon Bleu Mac & Cheese

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Yesterday was National Pasta Day, but let’s keep this party going and revel in the starchy goodness of noodles. This recipe for Chicken Cordon Bleu Mac & Cheese borrows flavors and techniques set in motion by classical French chefs. The Swiss cheese bechamel sauce, accented with wine and thyme, envelops the chewy noodles, cubes of ham, and breaded chicken for a Parisian twist on an American classic.

Ingredients
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
½ cup white wine
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon and onion powder
3 cups whole milk
8 ounces swiss cheese, grated
1 pound ham steak, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound cellentani or macaroni pasta
4 to 5 frozen, breaded chicken tenders baked according to the manufacturer’s instructions

Directions
Set a large pot of salted water over high heat and bring it to a boil. Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions then drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the water, then returning the pasta to the pot.

In a medium sauce pot, melt the butter over medium heat until the bubbles subside and it is slightly golden in color. Add the flour in all at once and whisk to combine these two ingredients. Stir in the Dijon mustard, then slowly pour in the white wine while whisking constantly. Sprinkle in the minced thyme leaves, salt, white pepper, onion powder; whisk to make sure that all ingredients are evenly distributed.

Slowly pour in ½ cup of the milk while whisking constantly. Once the mixture becomes thick in texture, continue slowly pouring in about 1 cup more. Whisk until smooth, then continue to slowly pour in the remainder of the milk. Make sure to whisk all areas of the pot to prevent lumps from forming. Bring this sauce to a boil for 1 minute, stirring frequently as it comes up to temperature. Remove the sauce from the heat then whisk in the grated cheese and stir in the ham cubes. Set aside until all other components are ready.

Pour the ham and cheese sauce over the cooked pasta, stir to combine, then add enough water to achieve your preferred consistency. Cut the cooked chicken tenders into 1-inch cubes and fold them into the cheesy pasta.

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