We all scream for mac and cheese
Scripps Howard News Service
By MARY CONSTANTINE
Scripps Howard News Service
As I write this review, there's a perpetual downpour outside and a chill in the air. In other words, it's the perfect day to enjoy a heaping helping of the ultimate comfort food.
So I perused the stack of books piled high on my desk until I discovered Ellen Brown's latest creation, "Mac & Cheese: 80 Classic and Creative Versions of the Ultimate Comfort Food."
What better way to escape a dreary day than to flip through page after page of macaroni-and-cheese recipes? It wasn't long before I realized that a trip to the grocery store was in order. I was hooked, and so was my tummy.
The majority of Brown's recipes are adapted from versions served at high-end restaurants, which means few of the dishes include processed cheese foods such as Velveeta or American cheeses.
Instead, what you will find are recipes featuring the yumminess of mozzarella, provolone, Muenster, fontina, Gruyere and mascarpone, just to name a few.
And if you're unsure whether you will enjoy those cheeses, the book includes a listing that describes each by its texture; the country from which it derives; whether it's made from cow's, goat's or sheep's milk; and the flavor each cheese emits.
There's also a list featuring pasta shapes, names and appropriate cooking times; instructions on how to make the perfect roux; and suggestions for crunchy toppings used to finish off each dish.
If you're a macaroni-and-cheese connoisseur, you will be well-served throughout the fall and winter months with this 192-page softbound book.
Here is a sampling of recipes from the book.
SERRANO HAM AND CHILE MAC AND CHEESE
(Adapted from Tico's, Boston)
Yields 4-6 servings
1/2 pound macaroni
1/2 cup olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, diced, divided
1/4 cup chopped poblano chile
1/2 jalapeno or serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (substitute 1/2 teaspoon dried)
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups heavy cream
6 ounces Manchego, grated
2 ounces chopped Serrano ham
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup toasted plain breadcrumbs for serving
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain pasta, run it under cold water and return to pot.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in small skillet over medium-low heat. Add 2 tablespoons of onion and all of the poblano and the jalapeno chile. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Set aside.
Heat 1/4 cup of the remaining oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add remaining onion and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes, or until onion softens. Add thyme, bay leaf and wine, and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5-7 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by two-thirds. Add cream, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the sauce for 10 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaf. Add cheese to the sauce by 1/2-cup measures, stirring until cheese melts before making another addition. Puree sauce until smooth.
While sauce simmers, heat remaining oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add ham, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes, or until the ham is crispy.
Add the sauce, sauteed vegetables, ham and red pepper flakes to the pasta, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook over low heat until the pasta is hot and coated with the sauce. Serve immediately, sprinkling each serving with breadcrumbs.
Note: The sauce can be prepared up to 2 days in advance and refrigerated. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Do not cook pasta until just before serving.
FAJITA MAC AND CHEESE
(Adapted from Elbows Mac n' Cheese, Cerritos, Calif.)
Yields 4-6 servings
3 cups whole milk
1 small onion, halved
2 bay leaves
3 whole black peppercorns
1/2 pound macaroni
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 ounces jalapeno Jack, grated, divided
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 roasted red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Lime wedges and tortilla chips, for serving
Bring milk to simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent it from boiling over. Add onion, bay leaves, peppercorns and clove to milk. Allow milk to steep for 30 minutes. Strain milk and discard solids.
While milk steeps, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan.
Bring pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until it's just beginning to soften to al dente stage. Drain pasta, run under cold water and return to pot.
Combine chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano and red pepper flakes in small bowl. Mix well and set aside.
Heat butter in saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute, or until the mixture turns slightly beige, is bubbly and appears to have grown in volume.
Increase heat to medium and slowly whisk in the steeped and strained milk. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Reduce heat to low and simmer the sauce for 2 minutes.
Reserve half of the jalapeno Jack cheese. Add the remaining cheeses to the sauce by 1/2-cup measures, stirring until cheese melts before making another addition. Stir in 2/3 of the seasoning mixture and all of the nutmeg.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and 2 garlic cloves and cook, stirring frequently 5-7 minutes or until onion is browned. Add red pepper and remaining seasoning mix.
Pour sauce over pasta, add onion mixture and stir well. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer pasta to prepared pan.
Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, remaining garlic and remaining olive oil in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining jalapeno Jack cheese over top of dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Bake casserole 20-30 minutes or until cheese sauce is bubbly and crumbs on top are deep brown.
Allow to sit 5 minutes, then serve, garnishing each serving with lime wedges and a few tortilla chips.
(Contact Mary Constantine of the Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at email@example.com.)