Sunday, June 17, 2012

Adult Macaroni and Cheese

My introduction to macaroni and cheese was as a school lunch entrée and later would see it listed as an entrée option I never ordered on the menu at our local diner.  It wasn’t until I moved to the south where you see macaroni and cheese as a vegetable option and side item on every southern dinner table did I discover my love for this tasty dish.

I must admit that I’ve never, or not to my knowledge have ever tasted the macaroni and cheese that comes from a box.  I have, however, had some delicious versions of this southern delicacy; and since I began making my own, this too has become one of my most requested recipes.

There is a simple reason why I add fresh herbs to almost everything I make.  I grow them.  I am not a gardener and neither of my thumbs are green, but even I can keep herbs alive.  All I have to do is water them, and I often get assistance from Mother Nature. 

Whether you have space in the backyard or in a pot on your patio, I recommend growing your own herbs.  You can pick them up inexpensively at your local garden center or supermarket. I created an herb garden along the side of my house.  I find that I have to replant the basil, dill and cilantro every year, but the thyme, tarragon, arugula, oregano, sage, parsley and rosemary provide herbs throughout the winter.  This year I added one tomato and jalapeno plant which have already begun producing.

If you plan to bake the macaroni and cheese to get a crispy top, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the macaroni in salted water according to the directions on the package until still slightly firm. I typically make this dish with Cavatappi which looks like an adult elbow macaroni, but since I'm serving the Adult Macaroni and Cheese in small ramekins on a tapas bar, I'm using mini elbow macaroni. 

§ 1 pound Cavatappi pasta or other dry macaroni
§ 1 stick of unsalted butter
§ 1/2 cup flour
§ 4 cups whole milk
§ 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
§ 1/4 cup dry Sherry
§ Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
§ 1/2 pound grated Gruyere Cheese
§ 1/2 pound grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
§ Salt and freshly ground pepper
§ Optional seasonings:  fresh thyme, cayenne pepper
§ Optional toppings:  panko or bread crumbs

Remember, macaroni, like potatoes and other grains cook by absorbing the liquid in which they are cooked.  The better tasting the liquid, the better tasting your final dish, which is why it is important to add salt to the liquid before cooking.

To make the white sauce, begin with a roux. In a large pot, melt the butter.  When butter is melted, add the flour and whisk together over medium-low heat for a minute or two just to get the raw taste out of the flour.

For this light colored dish, we do not want to brown the roux. While whisking, add the milk and continue to cook until thick and smooth.  To speed up the process, I sometimes pour the milk into a heat resistant cup and warm in the microwave before adding it to the roux.

Once the white sauce is thick and smooth, lower the heat and add the Dijon mustard, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg and my secret ingredient, dry sherry.  Sherry is another one of those fortified wines I buy in the local liquor store which is very inexpensive and will last in the pantry.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the shredded cheese and slowly melt into the white sauce.  Add fresh thyme (optional).  If you like a little heat, add cayenne pepper.

Remove from the heat and gently stir in the cooked macaroni.

Serve immediately or pour into a baking dish sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, sprinkle with panko or bread crumbs and bake for 20 - 25 minutes for a crusty top. 

I'm preparing this dish to serve on a tapas bar, so I'm using ramekins.  If you are planning to freeze this for later use, cover tightly with plastic wrap before freezing. 

For a printer friendly copy of this recipe, go to Adult Macaroni and Cheese. Enjoy!

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