Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Grown & Sexy Mac & Cheese

I had the pleasure of staying at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del-Rey in December. My first night at the hotel, I spotted the $19.00 mac and cheese on the menu. Y'all know I couldn't pass this up! Truffles, (I can't remember if they were black or white) white cheese, penne ... how could this be bad?

I have to admit that I was disappointed. I loved the truffles. It was the first time I'd ever had them and they are amazing. I get the hype. I found the mac and cheese underneath bland and soupy. I am of the persuasion that believes macaroni and cheese should be sliced to be served. Creamy mac and cheese need not apply. But like all foodies, I try to expand my horizons. I could deal with creamy if the sauce is properly thickened and flavorful. This was not. I was glad I had the experience, but this would not be something I'd try again, or so I thought.

A few weeks ago, Ina Garten made grown up mac and cheese. She served it as the main course along with a simple green salad. For those who watch her show, you know that there was promise in this recipe. I was convinced that I wanted to make my own version of grown folk's mac and cheese.

I modified the recipe: I omitted the bacon, used penne instead of macaroni. My cheeses were Gruyere, white cheddar, fontina and Parmesan cheese. I worked all of this out in Miracle, my food processor.

I had 2% milk in the house (I never have whole milk.) To make up for the missing fat, I used a mix of 2% and half and half. Look, if you are going to make grown folks mac and cheese, please don't try to make it low fat. I seasoned it with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and fresh nutmeg. Heat this, but don't let it boil.

Make your roux using flour and butter.

Add the hot dairy mixture and heat until thickened and smooth.

Remove from the heat and add the cheese. Once the cheese has melted, add cooked pasta and stir well.

Divide the mixture between two small gratin dishes. I'm using metal ones here. Trial and error has taught me to back the temp down 50 degrees.

Get all of that cheesy goodness into the dishes.

Now for the bread crumbs, which were one of my favorite parts of the dish. You know I keep frozen French bread in my freezer. I took out a few cubes and tossed them into Miracle. I added extra-virgin olive oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and fresh herbs. Take everything for a spin and you'll have bread crumbs that will beat anything you can get from the grocery store by a country mile!

Sprinkle these generously on top of the mac and cheese.

Bake and try to keep your mind on something else while this cooks. It will be hard. I used the time to clean the kitchen and thank God for the ability to cook.

So now the dish is now hot and bubbly. The bread crumbs have browned and are crispy. You now have grown folks mac and cheese. What makes it grown and sexy? Truffle. This is the point where you deliver the knock-out blow. Don't waste this on just anybody -- use your powers for good and not for evil.

Sidebar: Truffles are insanely expensive. I am not insanely rich, so I needed a budget-friendly way to achieve my desired results. The answer? Truffle oil! I checked World Market; I went to Sur La Table. Both were out! I called our gourmet grocery store and the oil was $40 for white and $30 for black.
Dejected, I decided I would check the kitchen store in my neighborhood for a new spatula to soothe my hurt feelings. The mac and cheese would have to wait. While checking out, I asked if they carried truffle oil. They did and it was reasonably priced! It was on and poppin' now. I know truffle oil is controversial, but I couldn't resist. If you're opposed to the oil and can't afford truffles, try truffle salt. (I'm treating myself to some real soon.)

Back to the recipe. Just before serving, sprinkle a mere few drops onto the dish. Wow, wow and wow! The complex, earthy aroma of truffle makes this already great dish exceptional. There's nothing more to say.

Tools of the trade:


Jessy and her dog Winnie said...

That looks absolutely delicious!

IL Social Worker said...

Hi - your blog came in on an Ina Garten google alert I've got set up and I came over to check it out. The mac and cheese looks delicious! Thank you also for the heads up on the truffle oil controversy - I'd never heard anything about it before, and I also didn't know that truffle salt existed! Very educational visit! Take care :)

golferztt said...

Thanks for the great recipe...it sounds amazing! I've always been curious about the whole truffle phenomenon. I think I'll give truffle oil a try.