Monday, January 24, 2011

Mac and Cheese: Thinking Outside the Kraft Box

In case you have not noticed, gentle reader, my recipes have been on the hearty and rich side lately. That is because right now in Brooklyn, it is about 7 degrees out. Which kind of sucks in a largely car-free culture where you have to walk everywhere. So you can understand why I would be drawn to seriously belly-filling fare these days. I'm calling it Carbopalooza 2011.

This naturally brings us to mac and cheese, another ’Merickan classic. There are almost infinite variations of this dish you can whip up ... though The Rob would far rather have a box of Kraft—old-school powdered cheese-style—than any other incarnation, so, I'm ashamed to say, the neon-orange stuff does sometimes make an appearance on our plates.

This from-scratch baked version, with three cheeses, prosciutto, and peas (yet another spin on my go-to pasta formula), seems pretty fancy but is simple to throw together with ingredients you can get at your supermarket’s deli counter. I made it for a recent dinner with my friend Tom, a good Italian boy who is naturally a fan of the non-box-based cheesy pasta. (I apologize if that was Italian stereotyping and our advertisers pull out like with Jersey Shore. Not that we have any advertisers, but we might someday, and I don't want to have to go back and edit.)

  • Preheat the oven to 375°.

  • Boil a pot of salted water, into which will go a 16-oz. package of bow-tie-shaped pasta, or farfalle. You could also use small shells, orecchiette, or fusilli, and myriad other pastas as well.

    While the water boils, make the cheese sauce:

  • Chop 1/4 lb. prosciutto into 1/2-inch-ish chunks. (Ask for the prosciutto at the deli counter in the form of one hockey-puck-size slab, not thin-sliced. And don’t pronounce the final “o”.)

  • Grate (or slice into strips, if deli-sliced) 1/4 lb. each provolone cheese and garlic cheddar (or one of these could be Gruyere, Jack, regular cheddar...). Shred 1/4 cup Parmesan (or Romano, or Asiago).

  • Melt 2 TBSP butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add a handful of flour and mix with a whisk. Cook this roux until golden brown.

  • Whisk in a generous splash of chicken stock, white wine, or sherry, followed by 1 1/2 cups milk.

  • Whisk in the cheeses.

  • Add a pinch of salt. Optional: Add a pinch of fresh-grated or powdered nutmeg, which is great in a creamy sauce.

  • Add the prosciutto and a handful of frozen peas. (Mushrooms or broccoli would be good too.)

  • When the pasta is cooked, toss it in the sauce and transfer to a baking dish.

  • Sprinkle the top of the pasta with panko bread crumbs—optionally, seasoned with pinches of salt, dried basil or oregano, and garlic powder.

  • Bake until the top is golden brown and bubbly, about 1/2 hour.

    I served this with a balsamic-vinaigrette-dressed salad and a bottle of red wine. Snow was falling outside that night (for a change) and it was an excellent cozy meal.

    Thanks to Tom for taking the photos, in case you couldn’t tell from the fact that they are much better than my usual ones.

  • 1 comment:

    1. 'And don’t pronounce the final “o”.'

      Because you want to pronounce it like an Italian-American instead of like an Italian?