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You Like Cheese? I Like Cheese, Too!

October 27, 2009

I like to refer to the beginning of a romance as the “You like cheese!?” “I like cheese!” phase of the relationship.  Meaning that the unbridled pleasure in finding connections with the object of our affection is so delightful, so kismet-like, that we gloss right over the fact that really, EVERYONE LIKES CHEESE. This isn’t like finding out that you were both born to Portuguese sailors with a penchant for origami; we ALL like cheese. Still, if you’re reveling in the uncanny commonalities between yourself and your newfound love, by all means, feel free to add “likes cheese” the list.

Cheddar

Photo credit: Joseph De Leo

A word about lactose intolerance: boo. I am so so sorry if you suffer from this. I have serious, horrible allergies to other foods myself, so I feel your pain. But hopefully you already know that some cheeses — the more aged cheeses, or goat’s or sheep’s milk cheeses — may work for you. If you have some good soy-based solutions, do share with the group, so that others may welcome cheese-esque products back into their lives.

But back to cheese! Cheese, glorious cheese. What is is about cheese that makes so any of us gaga? I am no cheese expert. In fact, cheese, like wine and chocolate, is one of those food categories that exemplifies the maxim, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”  Put less delicately, learning enough to throw out sentences like, “Oh, nothing says fall like the first sightings of Vacherin Mont-d’Or, AOC,” is like wearing a kick me sign made of cheese. Because while 9 out of 10 people in the room might nod appreciatively at your cheese sagacity, the 10th person might come back at you with, “How do you think this year’s weather affected the spruce barrels used to ripen the Vacherin?” Now what, smarty pants?So, yeah, that’s not the world of cheese that I like to sail around in. But, hey, guess what? I’ve been honing my macaroni and cheese chops, and now have a pretty good template that works with whatever cheese you have on hand! Isn’t that cool? Of course, it never tastes the same twice, which I find part of the thrill. My lovely dish-washing husband, however, has been known to look sadly at the last few globs on his plates and say wistfully, “Well, we’ll never eat that again.”

Publisher’s Weekly just did a nice round up on the new batch of fall books about cheese. If you are interested in brushing up on your cheese knowledge, it’s a good place to start.

And here’s my Macaroni and Cheese recipe, which is inspired by a recipe from the Gourmet Cookbook.

Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 8-10 as a main dish

Even though it calls for firm, flavorful cheese like cheddar or Gruyere, you should by all means toss in other interesting cheeses that you have around, like goat cheese, Fontina, Manchego, even that leftover hunk of brie or Vacherin Mont-d’Or (remove all rinds you wouldn’t want to see floating around your mac and cheese). You can skip the bread crumb topping (my kids are not fans), or use whatever bread crumbs you have lying around. Finally, if you are serving it to kids, and happen to have a bunch of  ramekins or gratin dishes lying around, make individual portions. Kids just love their own little dish of something (but remind them not to touch the hot dish).

The dijon mustard and red pepper flakes  give this a little kick, a little edge, and save this dish from being too intensively rich and creamy (not that there’s anything wrong with that) without any other notes.

And, no, this isn’t low fat. Thanks for asking.

For the topping:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1 /2 cup coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar or  Gruyere cheese

For the pasta and sauce:

  • 1 pound ziti, penne, or any short pasta
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 4 1/2 cups whole milk (you can use some 2% if this feels too indulgent)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 cups coarsely grated firm flavorful cheese (this is the part where you use up whatever you have around — some good basic cheeses to start with are extra-sharp Cheddar, Gruyere, and Swiss)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F. and butter a 4-quart shallow baking dish (or use two smaller baking dishes). Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

For the topping, melt the butter and stir it together with the panko and Cheddar until well combined.

For the sauce, in a 5-quart heavy saucepan melt butter over medium low heat and stir in the flour and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring (you are making a roux here — look at you!), for about 4 minutes, until blond in color, and gradually whisk in the milk. Continuously whisking, bring the sauce to a boil, and simmer for 4 minutes, whisking frequently. Stir in the cream, grated cheese, dijon mustard, salt, and pepper, until everything is smooth. Taste for seasoning.

Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water, cooking until barley al dente (follow package directions, but stop a minute or two before it should be done). Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. Turn the mixture into the baking dish(es).  There will appear to be a lot of sauce!  Some of it will absorb into the pasta as it cooked, and in my book saucy is better than dry.

Sprinkle the panko topping evenly over the pasta and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until golden and bubbling.  Give it a few minutes to sit before serving.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 28, 2009 2:15 pm

    That panko idea is fantastic! Will try…

  2. michelle permalink
    October 28, 2009 6:21 pm

    I love that you say it isn’t low fat. Sometimes you should just enjoy food as it was meant to be. Everything in moderation. Love the panko idea as well.

  3. AnthoyB permalink
    October 28, 2009 10:26 pm

    Great post here’s one that I’d like to share with you.

    Barbados Macaroni Pie Recipe

    One of the nations that has influenced the Caribbean cuisine is of course the closest, the USA. Referred to in many islands simply as “pie”, macaroni cheese is standard fare and always a winner, especially with children.

    There are several variations to this dish. Adding 2-3 tablespoons of tomato ketchup or tomato salsa gives a nice orange colour and added flavour.

    It can also be made with different kinds of pasta such as penne or rotini. Adding 2 small tins of tuna is also an option, and makes it more of a main course than a side dish.

    You will need the following ingredients:

    8oz/250g macaroni(preferably long tubes as opposed to typical American macaroni)
    1 tablespoon butter or margarine
    12oz/375g sharp cheddar cheese, grated
    1 egg
    1 cup 8floz/240ml milk
    2 teaspoons onion powder
    1 teaspoon hot English mustard
    1 teaspoon white pepper
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon red pepper sauce or cayenne pepper (optional)

    Garnish:

    2 tablespoons fine breadcrumbs
    2 teaspoons butter
    2 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese

    Bring water to the boil and add the broken up macaroni or macaroni elbows and salt. Boil it uncovered until it is just tender but not overcooked (about 8 minutes).

    Preheat a moderately hot oven 350F, 180C or Gas Mark 4.

    Drain the macaroni thoroughly, put it back into the same hot saucepan it was cooked in and mix in the butter.

    Grate the cheese and mix it in with the macaroni a bit at a time, while it is still warm.

    Whisk the egg until fluffy and add the milk, onion powder, white pepper, salt, pepper sauce and mustard. Pour in with the macaroni and mix.

    Place in a greased oven proof casserole dish. Top with a little butter, some grated cheese and fine breadcrumbs. Bake in the centre of the oven for about 30-45 minutes depending on the depth of the dish.

  4. October 30, 2009 3:49 pm

    This sounds so great! I think I’ll try it tonight to use up leftover bits of cheese before farmers market shopping tomorrow. Thanks for the great recipes! I love your blog!

  5. wes permalink
    October 31, 2009 1:01 pm

    I’m actually married to someone that didn’t like cheese…I say didn’t, because I have since won him over to the cheese lovers side. Now he even eats slices of cheddar plain. We think that he didn’t like cheese because growing up, his experience with cheese was of the American “cheese” slices and Velveeta variety. He still doesn’t care for super cheesy things, but he’s come a long way. I’ll have to try your recipe, I’m always on the lookout for a new mac and cheese recipe to try.

  6. December 19, 2009 8:38 am

    KATIE:
    UNDER YOUR PASTA AND SAUCE AREA OF THE RECIPE;
    THE 9TH INGREDIENT SAYS:

    4 TEASPOONS TABLESPOONS OF DIJON MUSTARD,

    WHICH IS IT?? TEASPOONS OR TABLESPOONS???

    THANKS, MIMI

    • Abby permalink
      December 19, 2009 8:44 am

      Mimi, so sorry! It should really be teaspoons. In fact, I am changing it right now. Thanks for catching this mistake – tell me if you make it!

  7. Paige Duff permalink
    January 14, 2010 12:32 pm

    Recipe for Lamb Shanks

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