Sunday, July 16, 2017

Not Your Momma's Mac & Cheese

Last week, the cheese lady at my local grocer (yes, they have a cheese lady) wondered what I was going to do with all the cheese I bought. This is it. As usual, my personal notes are at the end.

Pasta Al Quattro Formaggi

1 pound penne -- uncooked
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 ounces Italian fontina cheese -- shredded
3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese -- crumbled
1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese -- grated
1/2 ounce Parmesan cheese -- grated
Bread crumb/Parm topping - see below

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon table salt and the pasta. cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot and toss with the olive oil. Set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about one minute. Slowly whisk in the cream; bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Off heat, add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Cover to keep warm.

Combine the cheeses in a large bowl. Add the cooked pasta, then pour the hot cream over all. Immediately cover the bowl with a plate or foil. Let stand for three minutes. Uncover and stir with a rubber spatula, scraping the cheese from the bottom of the bowl, until the cheeses are melted and the mix is thoroughly combined.

Transfer the pasta to a 9 x 13 baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumb topping. Bake until the topping is golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Bread crumb/Parm topping

4 slices white sandwich bread -- torn into pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter -- melted
1/2 ounce parmesan cheese

Process the bread and butter in a food processor fitted with the steel blade until coarsely ground. Transfer to a bowl and toss with Parmesan cheese.

My notes:
1. Buy the best cheese you can, as the cheese is the star of the dish.
- Fontina is very soft. Sticking it in the freezer for 10 - 15 minutes before shredding/grating makes it easier. I used the food processor to shred mine.
- YES, Gorgonzola. Do NOT skip this or substitute something else. Regular mac & cheese uses dry mustard to provide a bit of a bite. The Gorgonzola provides a nice tang in this dish.
- Pecorino Romano and Parmesan - For the love of heaven, do NOT use the dust in a can! Both of these are hard cheeses. If you buy a small quantity of the good, imported stuff and keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, it will keep indefinitely. If you have never had the real thing, you are in for a treat. It is so much better than the green/red can stuff.
2. Don't substitute milk for the cream. Really, over six servings, it is only 1/3 cup per serving. I know people who use that much cream in their coffee over the course of the day. This dish is a treat, not an everyday thing, so live a little.
3. Again, do not skip the topping. This crumb mix is outstanding. Here, you can substitute Panko breadcrumbs if you don't have squishy sandwich bread handy - eyeball the quantity.

This is from Cook's Illustrated, a sister publication to America's Test Kitchen. This is hands down the best variety of mac & cheese I've ever had. There are a few variations to the dish, one adding a drained can of diced tomatoes and some fresh basil, another adding peas and four ounces of chopped Proscuitto. Both sound equally wonderful.

Fast and fairly easy to make, this is a keeper.


melissa said...
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melissa said...

I'd have to say, considering where you live, cheese hoarding makes perfect sense. And the recipe sounds amazing. While parmesan has its own 'stink''s so great on so many different things. We've begun adding it to the mozzarella for homemade pizza. Must try to gather the cheeses you mention, or close as I can get.