Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Wish List - Upscale Mac ‘n Cheese

I grew up with homemade mac and cheese. I liked it. But growing up with it, you don’t think of it as special until . . . you don’t have it anymore. It seems now that I have that middle-aged bulge; all those comfort foods of my youth are back.

Mac and cheese is not only back. It’s back with a vengeance, in gourmet magazines, trendy restaurants. There are even restaurants dedicated solely to mac and cheese. Who knew!

While looking for recipes for this posting, I found every kind of macaroni and cheese recipe possible. With so many pasta shapes and so many cheeses, the recipes are endless. But that is just fine. After all it is a recipe and your opinion of how something should be made. It is not set in stone.

Here are a few things that I have discovered about mac and cheese.

1. Eggs – My mother and most Southerners add eggs. I don’t exactly know why. As my sister says, we just do, that’s why.

2. Velveeta – It is not necessary to use Velveeta. Although within my little circle of foodies, it is considered a functional food. And is good at preventing the fat from separating from the rest of the mixture.

3. Amount of cheese – It is all over the board. One recipe had twice as much cheese as pasta. I decided on less cheese.

4. White sauce – I skipped it. Instead I used cream cheese and egg. I put the sauce into a food processor, combined it with the macaroni and baked it.

5. Upscale – It’s a matter of opinion. If it’s upscale to you, then it’s upscale.

This is my list. You may have your own. Please feel free to tell me if you have other items on your macaroni and cheese list. In the meantime, try and give our version of upscale mac and cheese a try.

Upscale Mac and Cheese

Serves 6.

2 slices pancetta, about 3 ounces, diced
8 ounces (2 cups) cavatappi pasta, cooked and drained
1 large egg
2 cups whole milk
4 ounces cream cheese
2 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
4 ounces white Cheddar cheese, extra sharp, shredded
Generous ⅛ teaspoon each of red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper
Generous ¼ teaspoon paprika
2 Tablespoons butter
⅔ cup panko crumbs
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Add pasta and turn heat off. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a shallow 1½ quart baking dish. Set aside.

3. Place pancetta in a pan, over medium-high heat, cook until crispy.

4. In a blender or food processor combine egg, milk and cream cheese. Process for a few seconds. Scrape down sides of container, if necessary. Add the remaining cheese and blend. Add red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, and paprika. Blend for a few seconds.

5. Drain pasta and place into a large bowl. Add cheese mixture and stir to combine. Add pancetta and stir into pasta. Pour into baking dish. Bake about 10 to 15 minutes.

6. Melt butter in a small skillet. Add panko crumbs. Cook until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool slightly and add parmesan cheese. Spread mixture over top of casserole and continue to cook for an additional 10 minutes. If top is not golden, slip under broiler for a minute. Remove from oven, let stand about 5 minutes, and serve.

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