Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mac 'n' Cheese

Mac 'n' CheeseThe best macaroni and cheese I've ever tasted was at the SoBo Café, a Federal Hill restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, back in the early aughts.

The top layer would be wonderfully crunchy, and the underneath neither too gooey nor too grainy. My stepdaughter loved it too.

But I've never been able to bake something similar — until now.

The keys were a Béchamel sauce and Pankow bread crumbs, both suggestions from the wine blog Bigger than Your Head.

For cheese, I used a half-cup each, shredded, of Fresco Asiago, Neal's Yard Cheshire, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. All were suggestions of Andrew, my Whole Foods Market frommagier.

So, here's what to do.

In a large pot, bring salted water to a rolling boil. Add 2 cups macaroni. Cook 6-7 minutes. Pour the macaroni and water into a strainer placed over the sink. Run cold water over the macaroni.

Now make the Béchamel sauce.

12 fl oz of evaporated milk
1 small onion, quartered
2 baby carrots chopped
Piece of celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
6 peppercorns

Bring it all to a boil. Then, remove from the heat, and set aside for 10 minutes. The evaporated milk really does make for a more creamy texture.

During that time, make the roux.

Heat a heavy skillet and add 4 TBSP butter over medium heat (I used Earth Balance — at least a touch healthy!). Once it melts, slowly blend in 4 TBSP flour (I used potato flour — why not?), whisking constantly until they're thoroughly mixed. Continue to cook, whisking, until the flour and margarine achieve a copper color. Add more flour or more Earth Balance, as desired, to adjust the consistency.

Now, strain out the solid ingredients from the cooling milk. Return the strained milk to the stove and gently reheat.

Then, slowly add the milk to the roux, constantly stirring, until it's Christmas Eve dinnerall blended. (As an option, you can add to it: 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp paprika, and 1/2 tsp mustard powder. This adds a little zing. It tastes fine without it as well.)

That's the Béchamel sauce.

Now, in an oiled casserole dish, add the macaroni, the Béchamel, and the shredded cheeses (reserving about 1/4 cup) and mix everything together very well.

Toss on some quartered cherry tomatoes (again from Bigger than your Head). Then combine the remainder of the shredded cheese with 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs and cover the top of the mixture.

Bake the casserole for 45-50 minutes at 375 degrees.

I enjoyed this on Christmas Eve with a bottle of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

By the way, Bigger than Your Head is currently running a 12 Days of Christmas series which includes some wonderful suggestions for non-beer bubbly beverage choices for a New Years Eve celebration - you know, sparkling wine.

Myself, I'll be popping a Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus gueuze.

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