by Ava Morlier, Culinary Arts Writer
Happy October! These increasingly cold temperatures call for warm, hearty dishes to satisfy both the body and the soul. Today’s dish will provide just that with its creamy, savory flavors: Gourmet Mac n’ Cheese! A few techniques in this recipe may seem a little strange, but they give an added depth of flavor. Here’s an explanation of a few of them. While it may seem odd to steep the half-n-half with shallot and clove, this step will provide an extra flavorful component to the Béchamel sauce (a cheesy, rich sauce that will coat the noodles). Adding breadcrumbs to the top of the dish provides a deliciously crunchy contrast to the soft and gooey texture of the Mac n’ Cheese. Finally, the recipe involves parboiling the pasta and shocking it. Cooking the pasta until a little bit before al dente will prevent the noodles from being overcooked in the oven. Shocking the pasta (putting the pasta in a strainer that is then placed in an ice bath) will effectively stop the cooking process and allow the noodles to finish cooking in the oven.
Though it seems much harder than cracking open a cardboard box of Kraft, this Gourmet Mac n’ Cheese recipe will be sure to warm your body and satisfy your taste buds with its richness and depth of flavor. Enjoy!
Gourmet Mac N’ Cheese
2 c. pasta (mini shells or penne)
4-6 c. water
1 whole clove
2 c. half-and-half (can use regular milk if needed)
2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. flour
4 slices American cheese
½ c. cheddar cheese
1 c. gruyere cheese
1 c. fontina cheese
2 c. panko breadcrumbs
Note: reserve a handful of the assorted shredded cheeses for the top
Preheat oven to 3500. Start boiling water: bring 4-6 c. water to a boil in a large pot. Be sure to salt the water. Once it has reached boiling point, add pasta and allow to cook for 5 minutes. While it is cooking, prepare an ice bath (fill a large bowl halfway with ice and cold water).
Once the pasta has finished cooking (and pasta still has a slight bite/firmness to it), strain with a colander and place in the ice bath. The pasta should be fully immersed in the water. Add oil to the pasta and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes. Once time is up, lift the colander from the ice water (making sure all water is drained) and place pasta in a bowl. Oil well.
Prepare the Béchamel sauce: in a medium pot, combine half-and-half, whole clove and shallot. Allow to steep 10 minutes or less on low heat. Can be slightly steamy but should not boil. Once it has steeped, remove the shallot and clove and set aside (you can either drain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve, or you can get them out with a spoon).
Start a separate pot with tall sides on medium-low heat. Add butter and allow to melt. Finely mince shallot and add to the pan.
Cook the shallots on medium low heat, making sure they don’t develop any color (about 2-3 minutes). Set shallots aside for later use.
Make the roux: In the same pan, add 2 tbsp. butter and allow to melt. Once melted, add flour and whisk well. Allow roux to cook for about 2 minutes, or until the roux develops a nutty smell. The roux should be bubbly.
Add the shallots back in. If half-and-half is done, add to the roux. Mix well with a metal whisk until roux is well combined with the half-and-half.
Add in cheese: starting with the American cheese, add cheese to the mixture in small portions, mixing well after each addition. Make sure to mix immediately after each addition of cheese so that the cheese doesn’t sink to the bottom and burn.
Once all the cheese is added (the mixture should be quite thick), add pasta to the mixture. Fold in gently. Once the Béchamel sauce has been fully incorporated into the pasta, add to a well-greased casserole dish. Smooth out the top with a spatula.
Add breadcrumbs and reserved handful of cheese to the top evenly. Put in the oven and allow to bake until the breadcrumbs are light brown and the cheese is bubbly, about 20-25 minutes (if you’re pressed for time, set the heat to broil and cook for less than a minute, or until the breadcrumbs are browned).
Take out and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Dish and serve.