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This recipe came about purely by instinct and I’m sure some other influence along my culinary trail. However it did come to be, it came along at just the right time, earlier yesterday, and not today. As I look up at the clock and realize that a new day has begun. My how time flies! So while working on the computer today researching job options and possibilities, I thought or remembered that I had: one, not eaten anything for lunch, and two, was well over what should be considered a plausible or reasonable lunch hour. So figuring out that much, I had to now conjure up something to eat and that would not take too long to prepare. But knowing me and knowing all too well how much I love well prepared food and also, knowing that I love to chef out when I can, it wasn’t long before I figured out what was available in the cold box and what I can do with those ingredients. So without further delay in my thinking process, I discovered that I had 3 different kinds of cheeses that had not been used and also, found a box of elbow macaroni. So to work I went on making this amazing recipe. Oh! did I mention that I also had bacon in the freezer?! I left that part out. Oops! Lo and behold, that dude (me), went right to work on this dish and it was so worth the effort and time it took to grate all three cheeses. Vermont white sharp cheddar, Pecorino Romano and lastly, some Fontina cheese. They were the perfect triumvirate, for this warm baked gooey macaroni dish. Have it with fried chicken, southern style with a crispy crust double fried. You won’t be disappointed I promise you.

Ingredients:

3 dry cups elbow pasta (chifferi pasta)

3 cups milk (low fat is okay!)

1/2 grated fontina cheese

1/2 sharp cheddar cheese ( I like the white)

1/2 pecorino romano

3 tbs all purpose flour

3 tbs butter

kosher salt

cracked black pepper

pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

4 cloves garlic

5 sprigs thyme

1/4 cup chopped bacon

Directions:

To begin, prepare your mis en place, by chopping the bacon into small pieces. I usually freeze my bacon, and cut the bacon crosswise into strips and then cut again into 1/2 inch pieces. (Bacon is layered so once the bacon hits the hot pan, the pieces or strips will start to separate). Once that is done set aside. Bring a large 3 or 4 quart pot of water to a boil with 1 tbs of salt. Add the pasta and cook till aldente. To a 2 or 3 quart sauce pot or dutch oven, add the milk, thyme sprigs and crushed garlic cloves and bring to a simmer. (With the side of a chef knife crush the garlic cloves, leaving the garlic skin on).  Add 1/2 tsp of kosher salt and a few twist of fresh cracked pepper and the freshly grated nutmeg. In a separate pot or large sautée pan add the bacon with 1 tbs olive oil and sautée till the bacon is cooked and all the pieces have separated and browned slightly. Do not crisp! Add the butter and allow to melt, but not brown. Add the flour and whisk to combine and allow the flour to cook out. At this stage you are making a roux. A roux is equal parts butter and flour by measure that are cooked together and used to thicken sauces. Do not brown! A slight golden color is good (blond stage) as this is flavor, but you don’t want a brown roux. Once the roux is cooked, add the hot milk by straining it through a fine mesh sieve. Whisk the milk and roux to combine and make homogenous. You are making a bechemel at this stage. The bechemel should be smooth and creamy and should not be clumpy.  Whisk till the milk and roux come together and starts to thicken. Do not let get too thick. It should be able to coat the back of a spoon, “nappe”, (pronounced nappay) but slightly thicker. If the bechemel gets too thick, add a bit more milk to loosen. Once the bechemel has come together and is completed, add the 3 grated cheeses and combine by whisking in with a whisk or a rubber spatula. By adding the cheese to the bechemel you are making a “mornay” sauce. I know it’s a lot to take in, but so worth it knowing each step and process. Once the pasta has cooked, strain and add the hot pasta to the sauce and toss the ingredients together to combine well. At this stage season with kosher salt and pepper and a bit more nutmeg to taste. Pour the mixture into a gratin or baking dish of your choice. I used a le creuset oval 2 quart gratin dish, but a square 10″ x 10″x 2″ square baking dish  will work. Grate a bit more cheese of your choice, and cover the top of the mac and cheese with it, before placing into the oven to bake. This will create a lovely gratin top. I topped mine with Vermont white cheddar. Bake at 350 degrees, till the top forms a light brown crust. About 20-30 minutes. Oven temperatures can vary, so keep an eye on it. Enjoy!

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