Sunday, September 19, 2010

Baked Macaroni (or not) and Cheese

Can you believe that Macaroni and Cheese was the favourite dish of the President of the United States? No, not super-dapper-but-somewhat-aged Obama, but Thomas Jefferson, the third US president. Well, that's how the story goes and even though it is reported all over the place, it may just be an urban legend. But then again, Mac N Cheese as it is fondly referred to is well known to be close to if not the #1 American comfort food and one would imagine the president craving comfort food after a long hard day's work. Drafting out the Declaration of Independence -- a little challenging, I assume.

Well, anyway.

Mac N Cheese has never been my comfort food. In fact, I think I've only had it twice my entire life, and neither of those times did I make it. I like cheese and pasta's kinda cool but perhaps I always thought the dish a little mundane. 

So, tasked with reviewing Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian for Monday's Dont Call Me Chef column (will post the link up on Monday), I decided to test out his Macaroni and Cheese recipe. Bittman is my favourite go-to guy for lots of recipes and I figured if I were to try and make the dish for the first time, he wouldn't let me down. 

 I was right. Mark Bittman, you da man. Baked Macaroni and Cheese was the recipe I tried: page 460 of the 900++  paged book. A self-taught home cook, Bittman reckons any kind of pasta that can "grab" the cheesy sauce in this dish can be used in this dish, not just Macaroni. I used Conchiglie (shell shaped pasta). He also recommends varying the cheese used: blue cheese, goat cheese, smoked Gouda or even mascarpone in addition or instead of the standard cheddar and parmesan. 

I quartered the pasta in Bittman's recipe but only halved the quantity for the cheese and sauce as I wanted my pasta really soaking in cheesy goodness. Here's my adaptation of Bittman's recipe

250g pasta
11/4 cup milk
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

 Pre heat the oven to 200C
Boil a pot of salted water and cook the pasta till its almost done (when you think maybe it needs another minute or two till its cooked). Drain and flush with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Heat the milk and bay leaves in a small saucepan. When small bubbles begin to appear along the sides, let it boil a bit more for say, 3 mins. Turn off and let it stand.
Heat the butter in a saucepan and when it gets frothy, add the flour and stir with a whisk till the mixture browns. Add the milk (remove bay leaves) gradually, stirring with the whisk all along until the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the cheddar and removed from heat.
Pour the sauce on the pasta, season with salt and pepper and toss in the Parmesan. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. 
Grease a baking dish (size appropriate) with butter and transfer the pasta in. Bake for about 15 mins or until it starts bubbling. 
Remove and eat it piping hot. Yummmmm.

OK. I loved it. Mac N Cheese is still not my favourite dish but the cheesy-ness of the dish won me over. It's really filling though and I only managed to finish less than half the pasta.Of course, I finished up the cheesy sauce quickly, which was also a reason I couldn't finish the pasta. Ha ha, the sauce was gone!! 

All the cheese is gone!
Bittman also offers several alternate ways to prepare the dish. For example, adding sautéed wild mushrooms and sage and using mascarpone instead of the grated cheese. He also suggests adding nuts + blue cheese or goats cheese + roasted red peppers. Or, check this option out: chipotle or green chillies + cheddar + cilantro. 

See, I told you the man rocks! Other Bittman recipes I've successfully executed are Pasta with Breadcrumbs, Garlic and Chilli Flakes and Homemade Crackers.

Meanwhile, word is that Obama's favourite food is Chilli... not padi, but the meat+bean stew!

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad i found you're blog. looking forward to check more of your recipes.

    You may like my blog too. it's a vegetarian recipe sharing site.


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