Le Mac and Cheese
Yesterday, we had a healthy meal. I worked out for an hour and felt good. But today to hell with exercise! We haven't had macaroni & cheese since Thanksgiving and the kids were asking for it. And when I say kids, I mean my husband.
We always make mac and cheese from scratch, and after trying this recipe, you will too. Say goodbye to those blue boxes of powdered synthetic "cheese" product.
To bring more flavor to an ordinary mac and cheese, I use an herb-infused butter. I picked oregano, tarragon, dill and thyme. This is what I have left in my herb garden from this past season. You can mix and match whatever other herbs or spices you want like basil, chives, marjoram or even garlic and chili. Have fun and create your own unique flavor.
For Mac & Cheese, use any kind of tube-shaped pasta so that it can be coated inside and out with all the cheesy goodness. For this particular preparation, I used the typical elbow-shaped pasta.
Yields: 8 servings7 Tbs unsalted butter
1 (16-ounce) package elbow pasta
1 sprig oregano
1 sprig French tarragon
1 sprig dill
1 sprig creeping red thyme
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart whole milk, warmed up 1 minute in the microwave
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
1 Tbs coarse-grain mustard, (Dijon mustard)
1/2 tsp fleur de sel
1/2 cup sharp cheddar
1/2 tsp white pepper, freshly ground
2 Tbs curly parsley, finely chopped
3/4 cup bread crumbs, or panko
1/2 cup parmesan, powdered
1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
2 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces for topping
1/2 cup fontina cheese, shredded
2-3 spray oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Wash all the herbs thoroughly. Pat dry with a paper towel. Pick each leaf off the sprig, then tear and bruise the herbs using a mortar and pestle. This procedure will release all their aroma.
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add all the herbs. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Strain out the herbs through a cheese cloth and pour the melted butter back in the saucepan. Bring the heat back up to a medium high (it should be hot and golden) then add the shallot until slightly golden. Add the flour. Keep stirring with a whisk for approximately 3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter instantly and form a paste. Add the milk in 3 stages. Increase the heat while constantly stirring for about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add salt, mustard and nutmeg. Mix, then add the cheddar cheese until molten. Let the sauce rest while the pasta finishes cooking.
Fill a big pot with water. Bring to a boil. Add the pasta (about 1 lb), return the water to a boil, then reduce the temperature to a medium low. That way the pasta is cooked all the way through evenly. Salt the water halfway through the cooking process (it will bring out the natural flavor of the pasta and the pasta will be more tender) and keep stirring every now and then so that the pasta doe not stick to the bottom. It may take longer than the cooking time that is written on the box. When the pasta is fully cooked (but still firm), transfer it immediately to the saucepan that has the cheddar cheese sauce. Add 1/4 cup of the fontina cheese. Mix well. Add pepper and parsley.
Oil spray an aluminum-covered baking dish (for easy clean up). The baking dish should be big enough to have a large amount of crust and a not-too-thick layer of pasta. Pour the pasta into the dish. Sprinkle the combination of parmesan and bread crumbs on top. Spread little pieces of butter.
Place in the oven for at least 35 minutes (until golden crispy brown) Broil on low for another 3 minutes if necessary.
The instructions are for about a pack of the store bought pasta. My favorite brand is Barilla.
My secret to cook perfect, tender pasta, is to never add oil to the water unless it's right at the end when the pasta is already cooked. Once the pasta is added to the boiling water, bring the heat to a boil again, then reduce the heat to a medium-medium low for 5-8 minutes. Then add the salt. Once the pasta is cooked, strain then add to sauce right away, otherwise they'll be soggy and overcooked. Absolutely do not rinse the pasta, you'll lose all the starchiness and your sauce won't stick to the pasta. Serve immediately.
I used a sharp cheddar for the sauce to make it more "American". I've noticed the American version is always very yellow.
To get a homogenous sauce, I always use all my ingredients at the same temperature so make sure you heat the milk in the microwave so it's warm. If you get lumpy pieces, do not hesitate to use a handheld blender.
When the prep is done, I usually sprinkle some grated cheese before adding the bread crumbs. I use a fruity cheese like aged gruyere. For the recipe, I added what I had on hand which is fontina cheese.
The breadcrumbs aren't required but I think they really help bring a crunchy contrast to the soft and creamy texture of the pasta.
To make breadcrumbs, I usually use my day-old baguette that I slice then pulverise through my mini prep or I toast on high mode regular store-bought sliced bread.
Published By: on January 11, 2009.