Sunday, January 27, 2013

Four cheese mac-n-cheese

Mac-and-cheese, made right, checks all the right boxes for a great meal: flavorful, rich, creamy and cheesey. The "healthy" box doesn't get checked as often (see the original inspiration recipe from Emeril Lagasse here), but after I went through and "lightened" the recipe a bit, I felt like I was able to bring it out of a coronary-alert category and closer to a "make occasionally on a cold winter's day" realm.

This weekend presented an ideal scenario for such a dish. The picture below shows you what surrounded our warm abode: Fog fog fog. The sweet owl (we call Owen) on the eaves was a lovely distraction from the fog, for the five minutes he graced us with his presence.

Four-cheese mac-and-cheese
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Dash or two of Tabasco sauce, to taste
1 pound elbow macaroni
8 1/2 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, or other good-quality parmesan cheese (about 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
4 ounces grated cheddar cheese
4 ounces grated chevre cheese
4 ounces grated monterey jack cheese
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

In a heavy, medium saucepan melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over low heat. Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and whisk in the milk little by little. Cook until thickened, about 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat, season with the salt, pepper, hot sauce and add the cheeses, bit by bit (all but a handful of the parmesan cheese). Stir until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth (but thick). Cover and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add salt to taste and, while stirring, add the macaroni. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to a low boil and cook for about 5 minutes, or until macaroni is very al dente (slightly undercooked). Drain in a colander and return the macaroni to the pot. Add the bechamel sauce and stir until well combined. Set aside.

Spray a 3-quart baking dish or casserole with baking spray and scoop the sauced pasta into the dish, smoothing the surface as necessary.

In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs and the remaining handful of grated parmesan and toss to combine. Sprinkle this over the top of the macaroni and cheese.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the macaroni and cheese is bubbly and hot and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

One of my favorite ways to eat a rich dish like homemade mac-and-cheese is to accompany it with a roasted vegetable. With this batch of mac-and-cheese, I roasted both butternut squash and brussels sprouts and spooned the cheesey pasta on top. It was quite delightful.

And in a happy happenstance, as I dished up and munched away on this Emeril-inspired dish, I watched the most recent episode of Top Chef, and there he was! I have to say I am pleased to see that this chef, who has at times been shown less respect by his food compatriots, seems to have gained in reputation since the early "Bam!" Food Network days. He was judging a fried chicken elimination challenge along with Wolfgang Puck and the usual Top Chef judging crew, and joy of joys, Josie got sent home! Whew. Sometimes it takes a while, but the kitchen karma comes home to roost!

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