Saturday, October 21, 2006

Mac N Cheese

Two things will precipitate a fall from my low-carb wagon faster than my little dog Jack can wag his stumpy tail: good artisan bread and macaroni & cheese. Like the kind I made last night to take to a potluck. This is no ordinary mac 'n cheese. Certainly not the blue box kind. Inspired by Ina Garten's recipe, Mac and Cheese, in the Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook, the cheeses used in this dish are a fabulous combination of French Madrigal (which I found at the Nugget Market in Davis), our locally produced Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, and a Wisconsin extra-sharp cheddar.

Topping the dish with slices of last-of-the-season heirloom tomatoes sprinkled with butter soaked Brio breadcrumbs was perfection itself. I could have used a higher fiber, healthier pasta, such as Dreamfields, but I wanted this dish to look like the blue box kind, with surprising and delightful differences. Plain elbow macaroni was the only way to go. Judging from the comments I received last night, I was right. Luckily for me, most of it was readily consumed, leaving just a bit for leftovers today. First thing tomorrow I'll climb back on that low carb wagon...

Macaroni and Cheese
Inspired by Ina Garten's Mac and Cheese, from The Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook
Ingredients:
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 quart fat free 1/2 & 1/2, or 2 cups milk and 2 cups regular 1/2 & 1/2
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
8 oz. French Madrigal (baby Swiss) cheese, grated
8 oz. Wisconsin extra-sharp cheddar, grated
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 medium heirloom tomatoes, sliced
1 cup ground Brio croutons
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Preparation:
Set oven at 375 degrees.
Fill a large pot with water, add salt and olive oil and bring to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until just tender. Drain in a colander and set aside. Reserve pot.
In a saucepan, heat the 1/2 & 1/2 just to a simmer (small bubbles will form around the sides of the pot). Set aside, off heat.
In the pot used to cook the macaroni, melt 6 tablespoons of butter. Add the flour, whisking constantly and cook for about 2 minutes, incorporating all the flour into the butter, creating a smooth paste (this is called a roux).
Add the warm milk to the roux, again whisking constantly, until a thick, smooth white sauce has formed. Add the marjoram and cook for 2 minutes more.
Remove the sauce from the heat and add the cheeses, salt, pepper and nutmeg, stirring with a wooden spoon until the cheeses are melted.
Stir the cooked macaroni into the cheese sauce and pour into an oblong, 3 quart glass baking dish, smoothing the surface.
Arrange the sliced tomatoes atop the mac & cheese and sprinkle with the buttered breadcrumbs (recipe below).
Bake in the oven, uncovered, for about 40 minutes. When done, the cheese sauce will be bubbly, the top will be a golden brown and your first bite will transport you to mac n cheese heaven.
To make the breadcrumbs for this dish, place about 2 cups of your favorite seasoned croutons (mine are from Brio Breadworks in Arcata) in a food processor and pulse until you've made fine crumbs. Measure 1 cup of crumbs and place in a bowl. Drizzle the 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the crumbs and mix with your fingers until the butter is fully incorporated. Leftover crumbs can be place in a freezer bag and stored in your freezer for a future use.