Saturday, January 29, 2011

Masochistic Mac and Cheese

I'm in the process of putting together a Boston Food Bloggers macaroni and cheese recipe index, much like this under-construction cookie one. I've been adding to it bit by bit over the last week or so, and this task unsurprisingly triggered a massive mac and cheese craving. (Update: Here's the link!)

As a kid, I'd only eat Kraft mac & cheese - especially the fun shapes! - and it had to be the stove-top version. Easy Mac is disgusting. Here's the weird thing, though: I wouldn't touch homemade macaroni and cheese. Once I hit college, I branched out ever so slightly to Annie's microwaveable mac and cheese. It was quick and easily do-able in my dorm room microwave, and it didn't taste too bad. But I still wouldn't go near homemade. I just didn't like cheese enough.

Now, though, I'm finally turning into a cheese fiend, so putting this index together inspired me to try my own homemade mac & cheese. It was also my first time making a roux, and I thought it was going to fail epically, but the end result was actually pretty awesome.

Why "masochistic"? Ghost chili powder. And a little bit of hot sauce, too.

Masochistic Mac and Cheese
These measurements yielded four medium-sized portions. Tasted great as leftovers!
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 3/4 cups milk (I used 2% - probably best not to use skim.)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • Bread crumbs (I used store-bought regular ones. You can make your own if you feel so inclined.)
  • Generous drizzle of truffle oil (I used white. I don't know much about truffle oil, so I can't really tell you if black or white would taste better here. It's a pretty subtle addition anyway.)
  • Ghost chili powder (or your choice of a spicy addition: chili powder, cayenne pepper, etc. I bought my ghost chili powder here.)
  • Hot sauce of your choice
  • Cheese (I used 2 cups cheddar - Cabot's "Seriously Sharp", 1/2 cup Gruyere, and 1/2 cup Romano. I thought about using Asiago, which is my favorite cheese, but it melts kind of strangely so I wasn't sure it'd work well.)
  • Pasta (I used about half a box of mezzi rigatoni.)
First step: get some water boiling for the pasta. Pre-heat your oven to 375F.

While the water was heating up, I grabbed a giant pot and melted the butter in it. Once it was melted, I whisked in the flour. This didn't go so well...I ended up with a couple giant chunks of flour, and not much liquid. Next, though, I started slowly adding in the milk, and it started getting saucier. (Note: warm your milk before adding it.) This part requires some vigorous whisking. Keep going and going and going until you have a thick, bubbling sauce. (Meanwhile, is your water boiling yet? Put the pasta in!) Lower the heat on the saucepan and add your seasonings, followed by a good portion of your cheese - about two-thirds. Keep mixing until everything is nicely melted and mixed. Taste it. Adjust the seasonings until you're happy. This is where I added a ton of ghost chili powder. Woohoo!

When your pasta is about 2-3 minutes away from the doneness recommended on the package, take it off the heat, drain it, shock it in some cold water, and drain it again.

Once you've got your pasta and your sauce, mix them together.

Pour the cheesy pasta mixture into a greased casserole dish. Top the whole thing with breadcrumbs, the rest of the cheese, a big drizzle of truffle oil, and any other seasonings. (I added more ghost chili powder here, for good measure.)

Stick it in the oven for about 30 minutes. Mine was done in about 25; my oven runs hot. You want the breadcrumbs nicely browned (but not burnt) and the cheese wonderfully melted. Most recipes say to let it sit for a bit. We were too hungry.

We drizzled a bit of hot sauce on top after taking it out of the oven. You can never have too much spice!

I was shocked that this turned out so well. When making the roux, I couldn't get the flour to fully incorporate, so I was worried I'd end up with little chunky flour pockets. Fortunately they disappeared into the mix somewhere!

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