A very important anniversary is coming up and I realized that I never transcribed the original recipe to this dish that represents it.
I love mac n’ cheese and already wrote down several variants of it so it’s in some ways not too surprising this was overlooked maybe it was simply because it’s a staple of the comfort food that we routinely share together. Since it’s on the menu for the weekend’s affairs I decided now was as good a time as any to put the notes about it down in one place, for posterity sake.
What I like about this recipe is it’s really not that far fetched a variant from the typical bechemel based casserole most people associate with mac n’ cheese but it’s elevated slightly with our own twist on it using some well worn kitchen flavors.
To start, this recipe is all about prep. The better your mise en place the better your experience and really, the prep is the kind where splitting and sharing the duties can be a really pleasant experience romantically for a couple of more playful within a group since it’s a lot of little steps.
There’s also no right or wrong answer to some of the choices, such as the mushrooms. On a typical day we might just use the criminis but for a special occasion we might spring for the more exotic varieties mixing and matching order to give the dish a more earthy, lusty flavor. Similarly, with the cheeses I suggest the Pecorino Romano, Manchego and Guda which we particularly like but Parmesan, Munster and Cheddar work just as well if that’s your preference too, just get a balance of flavors and melting textures and avoid the overly processes stuff. Throughout the recipe (after the jump) I make some other notes as well for changes, such as in the onions and pasta and all. Again, most of it’s straight forward, except for the Greek yogurt which I think throws some people off. I like the flavor it brings with that soft tang and the texture it imparts to the dish as opposed to heavy cream or some other dairy you might use. Most of the time we skip the milk but I’ve had a lot of practice working with the yogurt which will get funky if you’re not careful with it (and using the milk helps with that)
MUSHROON & ONION MELANGE
Variety of Mushrooms
pepper (fresh cracked black corns)
dried ground sage
cast iron (or other oven safe) skillet
* Clean mushrooms thoroughly with a damp cloth to remove dirt and particulate and then slice. We like porcini and shitake but your favorites will personalize the recipe.
* De-paper and julienne the onion. We use vadalia onion but again, your preference will help personalize the recipe, leeks, shallots and other allium can also work. You can alternatively dice the onion if you prefer.
* Melt some butter over low heat in the skillet
* Add the onions to the skillet and sautee until they begin to turn golden in color, perhaps about 10-15 minutes or so. Be careful not to burn and do not caramelize at this point.
* Add the mushrooms to the skillet with the onions. Season with the pepper and sage and allow the mushrooms to sweat uncovered until tender and the onions finish caramelizing.
* Reduce as much of the liquid out of the skillet as possible without burning onions or mushrooms to the skillet. If you leave too much liquid your mac n’ cheese will end up an unappetizing grey color.
large stock pot
* Measure equal parts by weight of flour and butter. Usually about the equivalent of a table spoon of flour is enough to make the sauce for about 1 lb of pasta when making this dish.
* Combine the flour and butter in the stock pot over low heat and stir consistently. This will begin to brown the butter and cook the flour flavor out of the roux. You are looking for a blond to tan color perhaps about 10-15 minutes. If you burn it you need to start over so don’t stop stirring.
Blond roux in the stock pot
Greek style yogurt
white pepper (if desired)
* Begin with equal parts milk and yogurt. There really should be some fat content to your milk and yogurt, minimum 2%. Depending on your preference about a cup and a half to 2 cups total should be sufficient for a creamy sauce. The yogurt will help create an additional creaminess if you do opt for low-fat milk.
* Combine the milk and yogurt thoroughly in a mixing bowl. The dairy should be cool, not refrigerator cold when you do this.
* Add this to the stock pot with the roux and combine thoroughly. Bring just about to a boil and reduce to a simmer to ensure proper thickening.
* Add a little nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Add the mustard. For the ratios listed probably no more than a tea spoon. We use a Dijon cream but your preference will help personalize the recipe. Taste and adjust flavor as necessary.
* Adjust the liquid level as necessary, add more milk if too think, allow to reduce longer over the low heat if too thin.
* Allow to simmer 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors a chance to meld.
SAUCE AU FROMAGE:
Bechemel in the stock pot
Warmed Milk (as necessary)
* Shred the Manchego and Guda cheese (and Pecorino if you purchase in brick form). We like these three cheeses together for this but your favorites will personalize the recipe, just select cheeses that balance in flavor and texture with one another and also melt well. As with the other dairy, it’s best to have some fat content in the cheese, so no less than 2%. This isn’t supposed to be a diet meal to begin with!
* Add the cheeses to the stock pot slowly making sure they combine thoroughly until mixture is smooth.
* Re-season as necessary (salt mostly) and adjust the liquid level as necessary. Don’t add cold milk this will cause it to seize.
* Simmer 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors a chance to meld.
Pasta, such as penne
Large Stock Pot filled with simmering salted Water
* Measure the equivalent of about a pound of your favorite pasta cooked. For us, we use a little less than a regular sized box of penne. We prefer the whole wheat penne because it adds texture and to the flavor profile but use your preference to personalize the dish.
*Add the pasta to the simmering salted water and cook till firm. Usually this is a few minutes shorter than the package instructions for al dente.
* Remove from heat, drain in the colander, do not rinse.
Sauce au Fromage
Cast iron skillet of Mushroom & Onion Melage
dried ground sage
* Preheat oven to 400
* Combine in about a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio the bread crumbs with Pecorino cheese. Add some sage to the mixture. You should have enough to cover the surface area of the skillet, probably about 1/4 cup.
* In the large stock pot containing the Sauce au Fromage add the drained Mac and the Mushroom & Onion “filling” and combine. Don’t over mix, you don’t want to destroy the Mac or the now caramelized onions in the process.
* While the mixture simmers over very low heat still in the stock pot, coat the cast iron skillet that formerly contained the mushrooms with a light layer of butter. There is no need to clean the skillet, just add the butter to it and allow to melt and spread evenly over the entire bottom and interior sides of the skillet.
* Carefully transfer the mixture from the stock pot to the skillet
* Top the skillet with the breadcrumb and cheese mixture evenly. Dab a few small pads of butter along the top of the breadcrumbs as desired.
* Carefully place the skillet in the preheated oven and bake until the topping is golden brown. Probably about 10-15 minutes
* Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow the mac n’ cheese to set up for about 15 minutes. If you try to serve right away the molten cheese will just make a mess.