Saturday, November 17, 2007
Shame on Me
I cannot believe it has taken me this long to write a post about Macaroni and Cheese. I mean, seriously, just take a look at the name of my blog! It should have been the first post – every other post, really – and for this oversight, I apologize.
The truth is, I have had a craving for Macaroni and Cheese for the last month and a half. I try to be healthy, and am usually successful. Mac and Cheese doesn’t really fit too well into that whole nutrition plan. I knew I was going to break down, though - it was just a matter of time. In fact, I bought four different types of cheese in anticipation of such a break down.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to Macaroni and Cheese. Such a simple dish can be taken to gourmet extremes, or kept at the comfort food we all know and love. There are Mac and Cheese shops popping up all over New York, with menus ranging from classic cheddar and American, to gourmet combinations like Gruyere, mushrooms and shrimp.
After discussing my blog a bit at Aria, I mentioned that next on my to-cook list was Macaroni and Cheese. A heated debate ensued. It seems that there are two camps of Mac and Cheesers, the purists and the extremists. The former like their Mac and Cheese made with simply American and cheddar cheeses, while the latter have no issues with finding kale or chard in theirs. I started out arguing for the gourmet camp, since so many of the best foods are those with which we are familiar, but which are revamped or taken to the next level somehow.
However, when my cravings for Macaroni and Cheese, the cravings that I had managed for so long to ignore, resurfaced, I found that I didn’t want any fancy pants ingredients. I didn’t want to mess with it. Despite the fact that I had four types of cheese in my fridge, I went straight for the cheddar. Deep down, I am a Macaroni and Cheese purist.
I think that’s what it is about Macaroni and Cheese. It’s the nostalgia. The dish brings you back to a time when there was no issue whatsoever with eating a giant bowl of buttery noodles covered in a rich, creamy, cheese sauce. That’s why we want Macaroni and Cheese, not because of some newfangled trend, but because it is comfort food in its purest form. And to those with whom I was arguing, particularly my dear friend John, I apologize.
Macaroni and Cheese should be Macaroni and Cheese. Once it is morphed and changed and ‘grown up’ it loses its soul. The bells and whistles detract from the pure, childlike enjoyment of eating such a simple delight. It becomes something totally different, and while I have every intention of making a pasta with kale and with shrimp and with Gruyere and goat cheese, I will not dare to call it Macaroni and Cheese.
Macaroni and Cheese, or more accurately, Rotini and Cheese
2 T butter
2 T flour
4 ounces good cheddar cheese, grated
A couple of slices of American cheese, cut into smaller pieces
1 C milk
1/3 of a pound of pasta*
2 T breadcrumbs
2 T parmigianno cheese, grated
While the pasta is cooking, heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. After it melts, sprinkle in the flour and mix it in with the butter with a whisk. Once the flour is combined, let the roux cook for a couple of minutes to allow the flour to cook and get rid of that floury taste, whisking frequently. As the roux is cooking, heat up the milk in a saucepan or in the microwave until it is warm, but do not allow it to boil. Pour the milk into the saucepan and season with whatever you want. I used salt and pepper, some mustard powder and hot sauce.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the cheddar and American cheeses to the milk mixture. Whisk until combined into a thick, cheesy consistency. Adjust the seasonings and cheesiness to your liking. Drain the pasta and add it into the saucepan to coat. Transfer the pasta to a casserole dish and sprinkle the top. Combine the parmigianno cheese with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle on top of the pasta. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown and crispy. Remove and enjoy.
I made this again about a week later and used only salt and pepper to season and skipped the breadcrumb topping. I actually preferred it prepared this way. It allowed the pasta itself to get crispy, instead of just the breadcrumbs, which had also kind of overpowered the flavors of the cheddar and American cheeses.
* OK, so a lot of those measurements are totally fabricated. Truth is, I have no idea how much of most of that stuff I used, but I do know that I used 2 T of flour and butter and a cup of milk. The rest of the stuff is ball parked, but probably not that far off. Use as much pasta as you like, depending on how cheesy you want your pasta to be.