Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mac Fusilli-N-Cheese

Edouard Manet - "The Picnic"Before moving along to our favorite topic food, and without getting too sanctimonious, I don't think it inappropriate to remind you, my gentle readers, why we have a Memorial Day weekend in the first place. Memorial Day was originally conceived to venerate Union soldiers killed during the American Civil War. Back then it was known as Decoration Day. After WWI, the commemoration was expanded to recognize American casualties of any war or military action. Traditionally, flags are flown at half-staff until noon, graves at national cemeteries are marked with American flags, and there is a moment of remembrance at 3:00pm local time. These days, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer and is celebrated with picnics, barbecues and the Indy 500. But pockets of sober reflection still survive. I was in the town of Orient, Long Island one Memorial Day weekend when the villagers held a simple parade and placed a wreath at the foot of a monument commemorating  their fallen sons and daughters. It was the most modest of ceremonies I had ever witnessed, and it humbled me to my core. These days - in my dotage - I take time to demonstrate my gratitude for our liberties and to the young men and women who fight to protect them, whether with beers for sailors at Yankee Stadium during Fleet Week (I love a man in a uniform!), or sitting at attention at the end of The News Hour broadcast when they list the dead in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope never again to take their sacrifice for granted. 
But one cannot remain morose and depressing all day; that's what Republicans are always accusing Democrats of doing. Life is for the living and to truly honor the ultimate sacrifice, one must live to the fullest. That means lots of America's favorite side dishes to go with all those hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecued chicken. And what's more American than macaroni and cheese? As American as French fries!
Macaroni & cheese
Baked Mac-N-Cheese
  • 1 lb pasta noodle
  • 3 slices day-old bread
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cans evaporated milk
  • ¼ tsp dry mustard
  • ½ tsp grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
  • ¾ cup Monterey jack cheese (grated)
  • ¾ cup Gruyère cheese (grated)
Start by cooking pasta in plenty of boiling salted water. I didn't have macaroni, so substituted fusilli pasta. I liked the texture even better, but there will always be some purist nut job out there who thinks I'm a heretic. So be it. Cook the pasta to just al dente, but no further. You want the noodles slightly undercooked, as they will continue to soften with the cheese sauce in the oven.
Melt 2 Tbsp unsalted butterRun day-old bread through a food processor
Next make a topping for the mac-n-cheese by chopping bread (I used day-old sourdough), 2 Tbsp melted butter and two heaping Tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese in a food processor. Set the mixture aside.
Start a roux with 2 Tbsp unsalted butter and all purpose flourAdd seasonings to thicken white sauce
Gradual stir in grated cheesesStir sauce until cheese is completely melted
Reserve about ½ cup of pasta water before draining and rinsing the cooked pasta. The excess starch on the pasta will gum up the finished dish, so rinse away, ignoring the wails of your Italian grandmothers. In the same pot as the pasta boiled, start a roux with 2 Tbsp of flour in the remaining 2 Tbsp of melted butter. Cook for a couple of minutes to get rid of the "raw" taste of the flour. Gradually whisk in two cans of evaporated milk and bring to a simmer. Add the hot sauce (I put in six heavy dashes for medium heat) and spices, and slowly stir in the grated cheeses, melting completely. Add the drained pasta and a little of the reserved pasta water. You're looking for a fluid, but not runny consistency to your macaroni.
Pour pasta mixture into a baking dishTop pasta with bread crumbs
Pour the pasta/cheese mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and top with the bread crumbs. Bake for 25 minutes in a pre-heated 350° oven. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes once the dish is removed from the oven. This will allow the mac-n-cheese to set and prevent you from blistering the roof of your mouth when you shovel noodles and cheese into it.
Macaroni & cheese
Using multiple cheeses adds complexity to my mac-n-cheese. There are different cheeses for everyone's tastes. I like the tanginess of Gruyère over American cheese. You might like a milder Swiss cheese, Havarti or even Jarlsberg. It's all up to you. Play with your recipes until you discover something you really like, and then start a blog to brag about it.
Summer is officially here with lots of outdoor eating and one dish meals. Enjoy new and old family favorites this season and check back here often for ideas and tips.
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

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