Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Not Yo Mama's Mac 'n' Cheese.


I’m taking a childhood favorite and putting a Rosie-spin on it.  I’m making an adult version of macaroni and cheese with grown-up flavors.  The bold umami enhancement of mushrooms, the earthiness of truffle oil, and a liberal splash of sherry all elevate this dish to another level of richness and complexity.  To bind it all together, I have the bold and pungent flavors of a sharp Wisconsin cheddar cheese and the creamy nuttiness of a Gruyère cheese which are combined in a basic Béchamel white sauce.  A bread crumb, garlic, and parsley topping crowns the dish.

  The pasta I’m using is cavatappi which means corkscrew in Italian.  The noodles are spiral-shaped and ridged so the sauce clings to the pasta.  The twisting shape catches all the sauce so you get more flavor for the bite.  Other shapes you might consider using for this dish would be rigatoni, penne, or fusilli.  In selecting pastas, I prefer to go with “bronze-cut” pasta. Bronze-cut refers to the die that cuts and extrudes the pasta.  Bronze-cut produced pasta (as opposed to Teflon-cut) gives you a rougher, more porous texture than a Teflon-cut, allowing the sauce to better adhere to the pasta because the surface is filled with tiny imperfections which capture the sauce, aroma, and flavor.  

  Not Yo’ Mama’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese

2 TB butter
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (I used a combination of cremini, portabello, oyster, and shiitake.)
3 TB sherry (I used a cream sherry which is sweeter than dry sherry.)
½ lb. cavatappi pasta
2 TB unsalted butter
2 tsp white truffle oil
3 TB flour
1 ½ cups skim milk
½ cup cream
2 cups grated Gruyère cheese
1 ½ cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
1 cup diced white bread
1 garlic clove 
 2 TB chopped fresh parsley

 Melt 2 TB butter in large sauté pan over medium heat until bubbly.  Let the shiitake hit the pan! (Along with the cremini, portabello, and oyster mushrooms.)  Cook about 3 minutes.  Pour in the sherry and cook another 2 minutes over low, until sherry is dissolved.  Set aside.

 Cook the pasta.  Add a TB of salt to a large pot of water.  Bring to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook according to directions, until al dente.  Drain.

 Scald the milk and cream.  Now you could use 2 cups whole milk, but I never have whole milk on hand.  I always have skim and cream, so I substituted going heavy on the cream side. 

 Rosie Note:  To approximate 1 cup whole milk using skim and cream, combine 1 oz. heavy cream with 7 oz. skim.  As I said, I tend to go heavy on the cream, so I probably used ¼ cup cream to ¾ cup skim for a cup measure for my mac ‘n’ cheese.

 Next, make a roux.  A roux is simply flour and fat (in this case, butter and truffle oil) blended and cooked together and used to thicken sauces.  Combine 2 TB butter and 2 tsp truffle oil over low heat until butter is melted, then whisk in the 3 TB flour, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes.  You want to cook the raw taste out of the flour but you don’t want to brown it.  Slowly add the scalded milk and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring, until thick, smooth, and creamy.  This white sauce is officially a Béchamel sauce now, one of the “mother sauces” of French cuisine. Remove from heat and stir in Gruyère and Cheddar until melted.  Add in freshly grated nutmeg.  Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste.

 In a large bowl, combine the pasta, the cheese sauce, and 2/3 of the mushrooms, stirring to combine.  Pour into buttered 1 ½ quart baking dish.

Place bread cubes, garlic, and parsley in bowl of small processor and pulse to make crumbs.  Sprinkle parsleyed crumbs evenly over top of pasta and spoon remaining mushrooms down the middle.

 Bake at 375° for about 30 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly and crumbs are golden brown.  Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

For the step-by-steps: 

I like to have everything ready to go.
My mise-en-place.

Melt butter.
Add mushrooms.

Add in the sherry.
Let it simmer a few minutes, then turn off heat.
Let the mushrooms soak up the sherry.
Cook pasta in salted water according to directions.
You want it al dente, since it's going to be baked even more.

Scald the milk and cream combo.  
Just bring it to a boil and remove from heat.
Make the crumb topping mixture:  white bread, parsley, and garlic.

Melt butter and add truffle oil.

Add flour.
Cook over medium heat, whisking, for a minute.
Cook the roux.
Slowly stir in milk/cream, letting it thicken.
This is a béchamel sauce now.
Season to taste.

Grated nutmeg.
Add the cheese to your white sauce.

Stir to combine.

Add in the cooked pasta.

Stir in 2/3 mushrooms.

Pour mixture into casserole dish.  
Arrange remaining 1/3 mushrooms on top and sprinkle on crumb mixture.
Ready for the oven.

Ooey gooey goodness.


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