Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Luxe Mac and Cheese

I promised a friend that I’d post this last week, and, of course, I’m only getting around to it now….


I’ve always loved cheese (I have a hilarious/embarrassing childhood story about my love for cheese), so it naturally follows that I’ve always loved mac and cheese. I always looked forward to the one Saturday a month that mom made the Kraft stuff for me and my brother, and I continued to love it (and try to not eat the whole box) well into my early 20’s. But then one day I went to Artisanal (aka the temple of cheese) with my friends Elise and Kristen and we decided to be indulgent and order a side of their mac and cheese. It was amazing – light years better than the stuff made from powdered cheese, and even more satisfying. I have no idea what blend of cheeses they use, but it was perfect – pungent, creamy, rich, and perfectly seasoned.


I first made my version about 5 years ago for Thanksgiving, and it found its way back onto our Thanksgiving menu this year at my mom’s request (I had actually made it for her birthday a few weeks earlier, as it’s one of her favorite things that I make).

There are, of course, infinite variations on mac and cheese, and it’s pretty hard to make pasta + cheese bad, but I strongly believe that there a few simple rules to which you should adhere: 1) neither onions nor orange cheese have any place in it; 2) the right mixture of cheeses can make it great – I really like 50% fontina for its creamy texture, and 25% each gruyere and extra sharp white cheddar for their excellent sharp flavors; 3) subtle spicing can make all the difference – I use a liberal dose of white pepper and nutmeg, and a hint of allspice. Sounds a bit pumpkin pie-like, but, believe me, it works very well and is just barely discernible.


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Luxe Mac and Cheese
serves 6-8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound medium pasta shells
2 ¾ cups lowfat milk
4 tablespoons flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8 ounces fontina cheese, grated
4 ounces gruyere cheese, grated
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
¾ cup panko
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

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Preheat oven to 425 F. Use 2 teaspoons of butter to lightly grease ramekins or a large baking dish.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta 2-3 minutes less than the suggested cooking time (it should be very al dente). Drain the pasta and set aside.

Add the milk to a medium saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low.

Meanwhile, melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large pot set over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for 2-3 minutes, whisking occasionally. Slowly stream in the hot milk and whisk constantly. Cook until the mixture is thick and bubbly, about 8 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the spices and then the cheeses.

Melt the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Add the panko and melted butter to a bowl and mix well to combine. Add the parmesan cheese and mix to combine.

Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and evenly distribute the mac and cheese between them, or put the entire mixture in a large baking dish. Top with the panko mixture.

Bake until bubbly and the panko is golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Serve immediately.

9 comments:

Julie said...

It's strange, but I have never in my life made macaroni and cheese (except the boxed kind which my son loves) but on the day that I make it, this is the recipe I will use.

I'm also jealous that you get to have mac and cheese for Thanksgiving. My families (the one I was born into and the one I married into) are both all about the mashed potatoes. Me, not so much. I'd prefer mac and cheese.

strawberriesinparis said...

mmm cheeeeese

Meghan said...

i want a bite of this now...its not fair to post this!! im pregnant and could do insane things for food as wonderful as this!

M^2 said...

I'm usually not a big fan of mac and cheese. But I had seconds...and thirds...of this version.

Colleen said...

Mac & cheese is my favorite! I disagree about onions, but agree on the cheese selection and spicing. I'll have to try your version, although we're on the Moosewood low-fat version (still amazing) til wedding time.
Then all bets are off.

Anonymous said...

I made this recipe tonight and it was great! i have some ideas for the next time i make it though. the chedder i got was very very sharp so i think i might substitute some smoked gouda for some of the gruyere. the spices of this recipe are great. the white pepper really ties it all together

K8teebug said...

This recipe sounds wonderful! But I must disagree and say that I do like some regular "orange" sharp cheddar in my mac and cheese :) I want to see more Thanksgiving dinner pics!

Anonymous said...

Please forgive the ignorance, but what is panko?

roopa said...

Anon - panko is a very light an flaky Japanese breadcrumb - see this and this.

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