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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Quick and Easy Mac & Cheese Goes Au Naturel

I remember the "blond" stage of cooking for our sons. White bread, spaghetti with butter and that store-bought, powdered flavorless Parmesan cheese and, of course, Mac & Cheese. We kept boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese in the pantry so we could make the boys food whenever they wanted.

Once they graduated from high school and left for college, we stopped making Mac & Cheese. A few months ago, I was cleaning out the pantry and found a box pushed way to the back. I think it expired in 2007.

Last week we were invited to a pot luck dinner party. For no reason in particular, the dish we were to bring was Mac & Cheese.
As classic American dishes have gotten make-overs in the past decade, restaurants now serve Mac & Cheese with lobster, Dungeness crab, shrimp, truffles, artisanal cheeses, blue cheese, heritage bacon, gruyere béchamel sauce and gluten free pasta.

For the dinner party I wanted to make a Mac & Cheese that was close to the comfort food we served the boys with a few "adult" touches, but not so many that the dish lost it's identity.
I prepared the Mac & Cheese two ways. One, with charred shallots and kale added for color and texture. The second, I added slow roasted Roma tomatoes and thin sliced shiitake mushrooms along with the shallots and kale.

Mac & Cheese Au Naturel

To be "comforting," Mac & Cheese needs hot fats. Cheese alone won't be smooth enough, so I added heavy cream, whole milk and sweet butter. Not very dietetic but it tastes good. Serve the Mac & Cheese with a tossed green salad and fresh fruit for dessert and the calories will balance out.

For the cheese, use whatever kind you like. I used Kerrygold white cheddar and that worked well.

Serves 4

Time to prep: 20 minutes

Time to cook: 20 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

1/2 pound small macaroni pasta
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sweet butter
1/2 pound good quality white cheddar, shredded
1 cup kale, preferably curly green or purple Lacinato, washed, pat dried, leaves removed from rib and thin sliced
2 tablespoons shallots or 1/2 small yellow onion, washed, pat dried, skin and ends removed, thin sliced
1/2 cup homemade bread crumbs
2 large Roma tomatoes, washed pat dried (optional)
1/2 cup shiitake, brown or portabella mushrooms, washed, pat dried, thin sliced (optional)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions

1. If using Roma tomatoes (optional), preheat oven to 200F. Cut each tomato in half, slicing from top to bottom. Place on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat sheet or parchment paper. Place in oven. Roast eight hours. Remove. Let cool. Remove and discard skins. Refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Bring 1 gallon water with kosher salt to a boil. Add pasta. Stir well. Cook 8 minutes. When draining pasta, reserve 1 cup salted pasta water. Toss pasta and set aside.

3. Place a carbon steel pan or a sauté pan that can take high heat (not a non-stick pan) on the burner. Char the shallot or onion slices in a few drops of oil. Remove when edges are blackened being careful not to burn. Remove. Set aside. Do the same with the kale. Char but do not blacken. Remove. Set aside. If using mushrooms (optional), add a few drops of oil to the hot pan. Char but do not blacken. Remove. Set aside.

4. Melt butter in carbon steel or sauté pan. Add milk and heavy cream. Stir well. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

5. Pre-heat oven to 350F.

6. Break apart cooked macaroni and add to pan. Stir well to coat. Simmer 5 minutes.

7. Add charred shallots or onions and kale. Stir well. If using slow roasted Roma tomatoes, fine chop and add to pasta along with charred mushrooms.

8. Transfer cooked pasta to large bowl. Add shredded cheese. Toss well. If more sauce is desired add 1/4 cup pasta water, remembering that it is salty so use sparingly.

9. Transfer to decorative baking dish. Top with bread crumbs. Bake 20 minutes or until cheese is gooey and bubbling. Serve hot.


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