I luv macaroni and cheese and even some of the boxed, mix-up-the-powder with milk and butter kind of stuff, more often than not passed for a quick lunch or dinner for me and (shocker!!!) my children.
When I received my first knoshbox a few months ago, included in it was the coolest package of pasta ever, and I instantly began craving my version of grown-up mac n’ cheese.
The bag of B&B Radiators from Sfoglini Pasta shop (Brooklyn based) immediately caught my eye. I wasn’t familiar with this variety of pasta and didn’t know what kind of dish to feature it in or even how to prepare it. Fun right?
I went to the company’s website and read the description for this particular pasta: “traditionally called Radiatore, the ruffled edges capture every bit of your sauce and offer a superb bite every time. Great for thicker tomato sauces, ragus and mac ‘n’ cheese.” Okay, so which of the three preparations do you think I chose to make? hmmmm yup — mac ‘n’ cheese it is — but with a grown-up twist!
While the boxed or frozen macaroni and cheese like most processed foods is definitely a convenience, it just can’t compare to the perfect combination of pasta and cheesy home-made goodness. So with the package of pasta for inspiration, I tuned my Ipod to my favorite smooth jazz playlist and cranked up the volume, helped myself to a rather healthy pour of sauv blanc, gathered up the ingredients I would need, and got down to business.
You know it’s kind of funny but when preparing comfort foods, while it may take a little time and effort, it gives me, well, comfort! The nutty aroma of butter and flour bubbling away and the sizzle of warm milk as it is whisked in. The sounds of the pasta as it bobs about and gently rises to the top of its stove-top jacuzzi. Hearty mounds of freshly grated cheeses and crumbled bacon awaiting their turn, and the specks of freshly grated nutmeg clinging to my fingers as I sprinkle a pinch or two over the bubbling mixture. ahhhhh
After a few more sips of wine, a couple of toe-taps, finger snaps and hummm hummm hummm n’ along with the famously talented Chris Botti, I gaze upon the ah-mazing mixture of the promising sauce to come. After a few more stirs, I finish up the sauce, add the pasta, steal a few bites of bacon crumbles and reluctantly toss the rest in, stir, stir, stir, place the mixture in the buttered gratins, top em’ off with a generous heap of brown butter bread crumbs and in to the oven they go.
Cheers to cheesy, bacony, home-made comforting goodness, a great glass of vino, and evenings filled with singing and dancing in the kitchen!
What variety of cheese(s) or add-ins do you use to make your mac ‘n’cheese extra special?
recipe inspired by the barefoot contessa
summary: a delicious blend of cheeses and hearty pasta make this grown-up mac n'cheese a comfort-food favorite. If you prefer a more saucier version, reduce the servings from 3 to 2
For a a little southwestern flair, substitute jack and pepper-jack for the sharp cheddar and bleu cheeses and add two tablespoons diced green chilies to the sauce. But I don't recommend skipping the gruyere... it's what makes this sauce so deliciously smooth.
servings: 2 to 3
- 6 slices thick-sliced bacon
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- 2 cups dried pasta
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1/2 cup cheddar cheese (medium or sharp)
- 1/4 cup gruyere cheese grated
- 1/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- pinch nutmeg
- 3 slices of white bread, torn in half
- 10 ritz crackers (optional)
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Place a baking rake on a baking sheet lined with foil, and arrange the bacon in a single layer. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the bacon is just starting to crisp. Remove the pan from the oven, careful - there will be grease in the bottom! Line a plate with paper towels and place the bacon on the towels and allow to cool. When cooled, rough chop or crumble the bacon in to 3/4 inch pieces.
- Drizzle olive oil in a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the pasta and cook per the package directions, 6 to 8 minutes or just until al dente. Drain the pasta and pour into a large bowl.
- note: do not over cook the pasta as it will continue to do so when in the oven!
- Heat the milk in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes or until hot and remove. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat, stirring with a whisk for two minutes. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for two more minutes, until the mixture is thickened and smooth.
- Remove pan from the heat and add the gruyere, cheddar, bleu cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Pour mixture over the pasta, add the crumbled bacon and gently stir until the pasta is well coated. Spoon into 3 individual size gratin dishes lightly coated with cooking spray and place on a baking sheet.
- In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place the bread slices and ritz crackers and pulse until you have course crumbs.
- Add 3 tablespoons butter to a small saucepan and cook on low heat, until the butter begins to foam and is lightly brown around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat.
- Drizzle the browned butter in to the food processor, add the basil and pulse 3-5 times until the basil is mixed throughout the crumbs
- Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top of the pasta. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the bread crumbs are lightly browned on top.