Writing about what feeds me.
For those who know me and my past year’s culinary exploits, it should come as no surprise that mac’n’cheese is my most frequently requested dish. Pretty straight forward: it’s tasty, it’s cheesy and it’s comfort food. While I usually do some variation of a jalapeño mac, my most recent request by Mom was to utilize a French chèvre that my aunt bought at Chelsea Market in NYC. She also had a little bit of goat gouda from the market as well, so I made use of that. Since I typically like to use at least four cheeses in my mac, I found an 18+ month-aged extra sharp cheddar and some run-of-the-mill parmesan cheese from the grocery to round things out.
This recipe for mac’n’cheese with WHITE TRUFFLE OIL got me super excited and inspired to go a whole different direction with this dish. For the first time, I followed it rather closely, but couldn’t help but add a bit of onion and garlic in there as well (the way I usually make my base/béchamel). The shiitake mushrooms can be revived from a dry package (as I did), but keep in mind the extra hour or so required to soak them in warm to hot water before you begin cooking. The amount of mushrooms and bacon you use can, of course, vary depending on your preference. Measurements, as given by the recipe, are indicated below, but I tend to eyeball it here and there.
Like I said before, I’ve made mac’n’cheese PLENTY of times and PLENTY of different ways, but this version really blew me away. WOW. Just WOW…
1 1/2 cups sliced crimini (or bella) mushrooms
1 1/2 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
5 to 6 strips (or as many as can fit in a large pan) of quality bacon
2 tbsp oil or bacon fat
1 1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar
3 tbsp butter (I used Irish Kerrygold, made from grass-fed cow’s milk)
3 tbsp flour
3 cup whole milk, warmed (I substitute 1/2 cup of the whole milk for almond milk)
7 oz (herb) chèvre, crumbled
7 oz extra sharp cheddar, shredded
4 oz parmigiano reggiano, grated and separated in 2 2oz piles
2 oz goat (or cow) gouda, shredded
1/2 small onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
1 tsp fresh sage, minced
2-3 tsp white truffle oil (depending on how strong you like it; 2 sufficed for me)
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup panko
10 oz elbow pasta (I used ridged Barilla macaroni)
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper (or white pepper, which I prefer)
double superfine mustard powder (no more than 1/2 tsp)
smoked paprika (1/4 tsp)
pinch of nutmeg
Begin by frying bacon until crispy. Set bacon aside and drain out bacon fat.
Place a large saute pan with 2 tbsp oil or bacon fat over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the mushrooms to the pan and saute for 7-10 minutes or until the mushrooms are fully cooked and slightly caramelized. Toss or stir occasionally. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper then deglaze the pan with sherry vinegar. Allow all of the vinegar to cook out, then remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside. The mushrooms should taste very flavorful, with a slight sweetness from the sherry.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a large pot of water over high heat, add some salt and cover.
Begin the béchamel/cheese sauce. Add 3 tbsp butter to a large pot and place the pot on the stove over medium heat. Once all the butter is melted and hot, soften the onions and garlic for approximately 5 or more minutes. Whisk in 3 tbsp flour. Cook the flour, whisking for about 30 seconds , just long enough to get rid of the raw flour taste, but not long enough for the flour to start caramelizing. Add the thyme, rosemary, sage, and red pepper flakes. Continue stirring and allow the herbs to saute for about another 30 seconds. Slowly pour in the warm milk while whisking continuously, so the roux and milk incorporate smoothly and there are no lumps. Allow the béchamel to come to a simmer (it won’t gain its full thickness until it does), stirring occassionally.
While waiting for the sauce to come to a simmer start the pasta. Cook the pasta for a minute or two less than the suggested time on the box: approx. 5 minutes.
Once the béchamel has reached a simmer, stir in the chèvre, cheddar, gouda, half of parmigiano, and truffle oil until all the cheese has melted. Add the mustard powder, smoked paprika and nutmeg; mix well. Turn off the heat and and taste the sauce for seasoning levels. Season with salt and pepper as necessary. In a small mixing bowl, melt a tablespoon of butter (optional) and mix together with the panko and remaining parmigiano reggiano.
Strain the pasta immediately once finished cooking. Add pasta, mushrooms, and chopped bacon to the cheese sauce, and mix together. Grease the inside of a deep (at least 2-inches) glass or ceramic baking dish with butter or oil. Pour in the macaroni and cheese mixture and sprinkle the panko/parmigiano mixture evenly across the top. Bake the mac-n-cheese in the upper part of the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the topping is golden and the cheese sauce is bubbly. Allow to rest a few minutes and serve hot.
1st Attempt – Béchamel was incredibly creamy and very flavorful, especially with the white truffle oil. The resulting mac, after baking had a perfect balance of gooeyness inside and crispiness on the top. I was surprised to find that not using a lot of bacon made for the right taste, in that, the rare or occasional bite that had a piece of bacon in it was a cherished surprise, as opposed to an assertive flavor throughout the dish. I am sure some would beg to differ, but I enjoyed it and my healthy heart appreciated it, too! Mom commented that all the flavors, from the fresh herbs, to the mushrooms, cheese and truffle oil, were very well-balanced. All of their subtleties came through. I had to concur. I was honestly floored by the taste combination! Joni said it was the best she’d ever had. My sister died.
Cheeses used: Old Croc 18+ month Extra Sharp Australian Cheddar, 7 oz.; Petit Billy French Chèvre from Chelsea, less than 200g; Holland Goat Gouda also from Chelsea, 1.6oz.; Bel Gioioso shaved Parmesan, 3.5 oz.
2nd Attempt – 23rd October 2013 – I couldn’t relocate the website with the original recipe I referenced, so this required a major exercise of how-much-can-this-old-brain-remember?! Fortunately, the flavors were still just right. The only difference this time was that I tried to use the entire box of pasta (which is about 12oz.), figuring it wouldn’t make a big difference. As it turned out, it really did. While I also had the oven on a bit too high at 425 degrees, I found out that the extra cheese sauce prior to baking ends up “cooking off” or getting absorbed into the entire dish. Lesson learned: mac still yummy, but just not as gooey and cheesy.
Cheeses used: Old Croc 18+ month Extra Sharp Australian Cheddar, 7 oz.; La Bon Vie Chèvre from Giant, approx. 7 oz.; Van Kaas Netherlands Gouda also from Giant, less than 2 oz.; Bel Gioioso shaved Parmesan, approx. 3 oz.