It started when we went to Real Food Nation for dinner. Laura was torn between the delicious-looking macaroni and cheese, generously blanketed in toasted, browned bread crumbs, and the grass-fed, free range burger. She decided to go with the burger. I had the summer vegetable ragout with chickpeas, eggplant, wilted greens and Texmati rice.
Both were great; but it got me on a kick to make homemade macaroni and cheese the next day. I also made a ridiculously healthy spinach-artichoke dip, which I ate on bread and wrapped up in romaine lettuce leaves.
As I gathered ingredients, I had a fondue thing going on in my head. I wanted the cheese sauce to be as complex as the stuff in a pot of fondue. I almost bought Emmentaler cheese, but then I thought it wouldn’t be the best parter with the cheddar. So I got Gouda (mmm, smoky Gouda…).
I also chose Bionaturae organic Chiocciole pasta, pronounced kee-a-cho-lay, which means snail in Italian. I was looking for a big, “look at me” version of humble elbow mac. That it is. It comes in a 16-oz. bag and I used it all up.
I put the 8 cups of pasta water on to boil, adding about a tablespoon of salt to the water. I know, it’s sort of a bold, non-sodium-phobic move, but it’s a kick I’m on since I read Francis Lam’s no-cook pasta sauce recipe on salon.com. Then I read that Thomas Keller does that too. It really does make the pasta taste better! : )
I also preheated the stove to 350 degrees.
I grated the gouda and cheddar cheese. How much? About a cup each, shredded. I put 1/10 of each flavor cheese to the side and put the rest in a saucepan on low. I added some broth, a few minced cloves of garlic. I could have gotten all fancy and done something with flour to encourage the melted cheese sauce to unify in a velvety, smooth way. But I did not and it had some strands and chunks of melted cheese when I was done coaxing it along. And I was so okay with that, because just think of the lucky mouthful that would be! Extra yummy, no?
I took 3 slices of Oat Nut bread (it could be any bread–I also like to use millet) and put them into the food processor. I ran it until it was almost all uniformly pulverized. I wanted some chunks (detecting a theme?).
I checked the pasta. It was al dente (good, because it would also be baked). Drained it, put it in the casserole dish, poured the cheese sauce over it, mixed it all up, sprinkled the reserved grated cheese over the top, then blanketed the whole thing with bread crumbs. I dropped some pats of butter here and there on top of the bread crumbs. I baked it for 1/2 hour. Really, bake it until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are toasted but not getting scorched. In other words, peek at it periodically (I put the oven light on).
It was so darn good.
Variations: use gluten-free pasta…or make a vegan cheese sauce with nutritional yeast…add sherry to the cheese sauce…do a gruyere-based cheese sauce, with jack cheese…some people like spinach and sauteed mushrooms in their mac and cheese (I do).
How do you like to customize your mac and cheese?
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