Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mac n' Cheese

In Chef Melissa Mayer's cooking class that I attended last week, she briefly talked about the competition she was in with the Food Network. I believe it was call "Food Network Challenge: Mac and Cheese." She didn't win, but she told us the experience was quite incredible and all the chef's were very competitive. I guess you have to be if you want to win the grand prize of $10,000.

I was inspired by the chef to try to make mac and cheese again, but I went for a more traditional one this time (no goat cheese on this one). I got the idea of adding the spinach from Lindsey, my sister in law, because she makes a delish baked ziti that she puts fresh spinach in. This mac and cheese is definitely more of a grown-up dish, and that nutmeg gives it a great, yet subtle flavor in the background. You don't have to add the spinach like I did if you want your kids to eat it!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 ½ c (9 ounces) macaroni pasta (I used short penne riggate)
  • 2 ½ c whole milk
  • half of a small shallot, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 4 T unsalted butter
  • ¼ c all-purpose flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 3 oz fontina cheese, grated (about 1 cup)--I used mozzarella
  • 3 oz Gruy√®re cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh nutmeg
  • ½ c fresh bread crumbs
DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and boil until it is about half-cooked, tender on the surface with a distinct bite still in the center, about 5 minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water and set aside, tossing from time to time as it cools to avoid sticking.
  3. Put the milk in a small saucepan with the half shallot, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring just to a low boil over medium heat, then take the pan from the heat and let sit to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until it foams up and has a very slight toasty smell (it should not brown), 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Strain the warm milk into the pan and whisk to blend. Continue to cook the sauce, whisking often, until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and gradually whisk in the cheeses until fully melted.
  6. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, add the nutmeg, then add the pasta and stir to fully coat all the pasta with the cheese sauce (you can add fresh spinach or other veggies at this point).
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over.
  8. Set the dish on the oven rack and lay a piece of foil on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake until the macaroni and cheese is bubbling hot and the top is nicely browned, about 40 minutes. Let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

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