Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Extreme Make-Over; Macaroni Edition - Macaroni y Formaggio al Forno

I love Mac & Cheese, and I don't mean the "Blue box" either.... I do not subscribe to cheese flavored powder in any way. This is mainly because I never had it as a kid, so I don't consider it a "comfort food" like so many Americans do. Now, Top Ramen on the other hand, that is one of my comfort foods, but more on that later, or I guess that would be previous since I have already done a few posts on kicking up your Ramen.

Focus, Focus... OK, Macaroni and Cheese... I have several recipes that I have contrived such as Bleu Macaroni and Macaroni alla Nawlens (cause it has Andouille in it) as well as a 5 Cheese extravaganza (Although sometimes it's a train wreck) and a delicious Smoked Gouda Mac that was originally a low fat recipe. (Yeah, THAT needed to be changed right away to the full fat version.) I even took Macaroni south of the border with a Chipotle Cheddar version... But they have all failed in one main area. The problem with most Mac and cheese is that it is based on a Béchamel.

Don't get me wrong... I LOVE Béchamel, and I understand WHY Béchamel is used, but it really absorbs the flavors of the cheese and down plays all that aged goodness. You can only add so much cheese to Béchamel before it becomes grainy or curdles due to the higher concentration of protein between the cheese and the milk making it more heat sensative. The solution is simple less Milk & Flour.... MORE FAT....

Oh yeah baby, THAT is what I'm talkin bout! So here without too much further rambling is a Mac and Cheese recipe based on a small amount of Heavy Cream, Butter, and most importantly, Crème Fraîche... Why Crème Fraîche? Because it doesn't curdle like sour cream, cream cheese or Mascarpone would in the oven and it has a slightly "Cheesey" flavor already. The result, a deliciously creamy Macaroni y Formaggio al Forno with ALL the flavor and, of course, ALL of the guilt..... This ain't "healthy" by any means; but in this capacity, it's really a starter, not a main dish. A little goes a long way.

Penne y Formaggio al Forno

5 oz Provolone
6 oz GOOD Sharp Cheddar (I used a 3 year old Vintage White; Orange Cheese is just wrong)
4 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated; Divided
1 1/2 oz Panko
2 TB unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
4 oz Crème Fraîche
1 lb Elbow Macaroni or Penne (I only used Penne cause I forgot I was out of elbow Macaroni)
1/4 tsp White Pepper
a pinch of fresh grated Nutmeg

A word of warning... Not that I am asking you to take a second mortgage out on your house so you can buy a super fancy 100 year old Cheddar; but "cheap" cheese produces bad Macaroni & Cheese. I'm just sayin... ;)

Set a large pot of water over high heat so it can come to a boil while you are grating all the cheeses so your ready.

Set aside 1 oz of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and mix it with the Panko.

Place Heavy Cream and Butter in a small sauce pan, melting it over low heat.

You should be able to drop your pasta now, boil for 1/2 the time called for on the package.

Begin preheating the oven to 325 degrees.

Once the Butter and Cream are melted and homogeneous, add a handful of each cheese and whisk until melted and smooth.

Add another handful of each of the Cheeses and whisk again until melted and smooth.

Add the Crème Fraîche and whisk again. (it will look a little runny)

Add all of the remaining cheese; stirring until blended and smooth.

Drain the Pasta.....

Add the pasta to the Cheese mixture

and stir gently to coat all the noodles

Add white pepper and a hint of Nutmeg and stir again.

Immediately pour the mixture into an 8 x 8 casserole dish. (Hooray for old CorningWare!)

Sprinkle with Panko/Parmigiano-Reggiano mixture.

Bake for 20 minutes or until is begins to bubble.

Switch the broiler on and place under the element for 3 minutes to finish of the top crust.

Then indulge in cheese happiness.

Oh yeah!



Bob said...

That looks wicked good. Heh, that's so true about cheap cheese. I've been using some grass fed New Zealand cheddar that's awesome.

I've been dying for some homemade mac and cheese (I've actually never made it myself), but haven't found the right time to make it. My girlfriend won't have anything to do with it. Sigh.

Unknown said...

Looks and sounds awesome! We usually use mostly Meunster with some American, Cheddar and/or Pepper Jack, Parm//Romano, jalapenos, etc. Now you've got me thinking about a smoky version. I'll definitely have to try the creme fraiche. Thanx!!

Patti T. said...

This is so funny, my son called me last night and I was discussing with him about how I never start with a bechamel because you seem to lose the cheese flavor when you start that way. I also told him don't EVER include Velveeta! I guess I am kind of a cheese snob, I love a mixture of cheeses but I want them all to be really good cheeses. OMG, yours looks so good I wish I had a plate of it right in front of me right now. Perfect browning of the topping by the way. MMmmmmmm.

Mary Bergfeld said...

This looks seriously delicious. My favorite version of mac n' cheese uses truffle oil, but your recipe is certainly a contender. This is my first visit to your blog and I love what I found here. I'll be back often to see what's cookin'.

Bo said...

This looks really delicious! I really like the penne instead of the elbow...It makes it look more grown up.