Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Day 17: Best Macaroni and Cheese Ever! (part II)

I’m back on mac today!….it’s been a week since I’ve touched the stuff….but I just can’t stay away! I’ve been having dreams of melted cheeses. Aged sharp cheddar, pepper jack, Swiss gruyere, and aged parmesan, mixed in with bits of crispy pancetta, layers or fresh tomato, a buttery crusted top of bread crumbs and crushed ritz crackers. I was so pumped on this recipe the first time, that I wanted to make sure I got the proportions just right. This macaroni and cheese could very well be, my new favorite dish of all time!

I buy the 8 oz. packages of Tillamook extra sharp cheddar, and pepper jack. Whatever I don’t use will be bagged up and saved for another batch or another recipe such as Philly cheese sandwiches, stuffed mushrooms, or some killer omelets later in the week. Cheese is the most expensive item in this dish, so don’t trip out when you spend $20 on cheese, just to begin this recipe. You will get your money’s worth in the end. There’s no need to spend more than $7 per pound on any one of these cheeses. I go to Trader Joes for the gruyere and parmesan….these are both under $7 per pound there.

I’ve found that cheddar is the basis of the cheese mixture. A good sharp cheddar will give your mac n’ cheese a strong flavor as well as a bright color. The younger a cheddar is, the milder and softer it will be….as an older cheddar will have a more tangy bite and be crumbly. I use a 15 month aged Tillamook. The pepper jack gives the dish a distinctive layer of heat and creaminess that won’t go unnoticed. The Gruyere is a 6 month aged cheese, that rounds everything out and acts like the mediator (if these four cheeses were to get in a fight). It’s got just the right amount of creaminess and nuttiness to balance everything out. Finally, I use a 10 month aged parmesan (No need to go with the $20 per pound parmesano reggiano). Parmesan will bring in a stringy texture to the dish, as well as a nutty and crisp flavor.

Ingedients: (2 servings) total cost: $9
1. unsalted butter(4 tbs.)
2. flour (1/3 cup)
3. whole milk (1 cup)
4. dried basil (3 leaves)
5. sharp cheddar (4 oz.)
6. pepper jack (3 oz.)
7. gruyere (3 oz.)
8. parmesan (2 oz.)
9. cubed pancetta (handful)
10. penne pasta (1 cup)
11. cayenne pepper (1/4 tsp.)
12. dried herb mix w/ sea salt (1/2 tbs.)
13. sea salt (pinch)
14. pepper (pinch)
15. tomato
16. bread crumbs (1/8 cup)
17. crushed ritz crackers (1/8 cup)
18. unsalted butter (1 tbs.)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Bring 1 qt. water to a boil.
3. Warm (don’t boil) 1 cup of milk in small saucepan with 3 bay leaves.
4. Grate all four types of cheese.
5. Fry up the pancetta in ½ tbs. olive oil till brown, and set aside.
6. Boil penne cooking 2 min. short of box directions.
--- 3 burners photo/milk/pasta/pancetta ---
7. Drain the penne pasta in cold water and set aside.
8. Melt 4 tbs. of unsalted butter in a large sauté pan.
9. Add 1/3 cup of flour and whisk until thick.
10. Add the warm milk and whisk until thick.
--- roux photo ---
11. Remove from the heat and fold in the grated cheese mixture.
12. Mix in the pasta, pancetta, cayenne pepper, dried herbs, sea salt, and pepper.
13. Pour this mixture into a clay dish.
--- sliced tomatos on top photo ---
14. Slice half the tomato, and dice the other half.
15. Spread the diced tomato across the top of the dish, then layer the slices on top of that.
16. Melt 1 tbs. of unsalted butter, and mix into the bread crumbs and ritz crackers.
17. Spread this mix onto the top of the tomatoes.
18. Bake for 25 min. or until the cheese starts to bubble on the edges of the dish.
19. Remove and let sit for 5-10 min.

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