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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cheesemonger's Mac and Cheese

If being home for the holidays had a flavor, it would be warm macaroni and cheese dropped off at your house while you were napping.

When Leigh Ann and I were staying at Mom's for Thanksgiving, our friend Va. stopped by with some hot-out-of-the-oven farfalle and cheese she'd made for her great-granddaughter. Va. didn't think it was much to fuss over. We gobbled it up faster than she could say "welcome home" and practically licked the bowl.

Later, I insisted Va. tell me how she'd made it. "Oh, it was nothing," she insisted. "Just the usual white sauce...though I did use some heavy cream. And the cheese was some Asiago and Parmesan I had left in the fridge." The fact it had those strong cheeses probably explains why the toddler didn't love it, but the grown-ups did.

Anyway, I've had mac and cheese on my mind since then and decided to make some yesterday to serve my aunt and uncle when they arrived from Tallahassee.

Cheesemonger's Mac and Cheese
Bon Appetit, September 2007
(The recipe is from the owners of a cheese store in Providence, Rhode Island. They note one should use local, artisan-style cheeses if possible. However, I think Gruyere is expensive enough without getting artisan-style Gruyere.)

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyere cheese
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
1 1/2 cups diced rindless Brie (cut from 1-pound wedge)
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (I just used about 3/4 teaspoon dried)
3/4 teaspoon (scant) nutmeg
4 cups whole milk

1 3/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread (I think the storebought crumbs are much denser than fresh/homemade, so if you use those as I did, keep it closer to 3/4 cup)

1 pound penne pasta

The recipe recommends placing the Brie in the freezer for 15 minutes to firm it before you remove the rind and dice it. I still found this prep step to be a major pain in the butt.
Mix all cheeses. Set aside one cup for topping.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir until mixture turns golden brown, about 4 minutes.
Add thyme and nutmeg. Gradually whisk in milk. Simmer until thickened and smooth, stirring often, about 4 minutes. (For some reason, it took way longer than this. Maybe my heat was too low? I finally cranked it up.)
Add cheeses from large bowl. Stir until melted and smooth.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add breadcrumbs; toss. Stir until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer to plate.

Preheat oven to 375. Cook pasta in boiling salted water until tender but firm to bite. Drain.
Transfer to large bowl. Pour cheese sauce over; toss. (The recipe tells you to divide this among eight 1 1/4-cup custard cups, but I just put it all in a two-quart casserole.) Sprinkle with 1 cup cheese. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. (Oops, I did that backwards. Oh, well.)
Bake pasta until it begins to bubble and tops are golden, about 20 minutes.
We had it with pork loin (marinated in white wine, garlic and mustard), roasted asparagus, and a spinach salad with green apple, craisins and spiced pecans (courtesy of my friend Anne). Great meal! But I think it would have been even better if I'd followed Va.'s lead and done the Asiago and Parmesan instead of the Brie and Gruyere. To be continued...

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