Despite the fact that spring has practically sprung and we’re all leaning towards lighter meals, today Gene and I couldn’t stop talking about mac and cheese. It seemed serendipitous when we arrived at the grocery store and saw the cover of this month’s Bon Appetit:
I grabbed the magazine and immediately started collecting ingredients so that we could adapt this recipe.
I skipped the fresh pepper and garlic in favor of the cheaper and more readily available (read: already in my fridge) jarred garlic and pimiento. Then I enlisted my cheese grater, Gene, to shave some extra sharp cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella.
While Gene grated the cheese (I’ve already drawn blood twice this week by grating my own hand), I got to work on the sauce. I have to admit, I was really skeptical about a mac and cheese that had:
a.) no bechamel
b.) no milk
I threw the pimiento, minced garlic, cheddar, two tablespoons of butter and a quarter cup of parm into the food processor with about half a cup of hot water (since I didn’t boil fresh red bell pepper like the original recipe called for). Next time, I’ll add milk instead of water. You can never have too much fat. I also threw in some salt, “soul food seasoning” (basically a seasoned salt blend), lots of freshly cracked black pepper, nutmeg, and a healthy squirt of Dijon mustard. Blend all this together until everything is a nice neon orange.
Then take some breadcrumbs and toast them in a dry pan. Don’t do what I did and forget you’re toasting breadcrumbs–they toast really quickly, and you’ll have to throw them out and start over. Once the breadcrumbs are nice and brown (about five minutes, as pictured below), throw in a tablespoon of butter and remove from heat, stirring to melt and combine.
Once your breadcrumbs and sauce are prepped, boil the pasta. I hate when a noodle tears under the weight of the cheesy sauce, so I use a sturdy pasta like cavatappi. You can use whatever you like, but only boil it until it’s al dente. Even just before al dente. It’s gonna wind up cooking more in the oven, so do not overcook it!
While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and grease an 8-cup (at least) casserole dish. All I had was a 13 x 9 pan, so I used that. When the pasta is just cooked, drain it, then put it back in the pot and toss with the sauce and remaining cheeses. Dump it into the casserole dish and top with the breadcrumbs. Bake for 25 minutes, let rest for ten minutes, and then dig in!
The end result was less creamy than your typical mac and cheese (which I attribute to the lack of bechamel and milk) and more of a fancy pasta dish. Don’t get me wrong; this tasted great! The pasta had the perfect “bite,” the pimiento gave the sauce a depth and complexity that mac and cheese often lacks, and the toasted breadcrumbs were deliciously nutty and buttery. I also liked this dish texturally; the cooking method created strata: a crispy, crunchy surface; a subtly savory center; and a creamy, almost silky bottom layer.
Next time, I’d up the creaminess by adding more milk and cheese throughout. However, I love the idea of adding extra depth by incorporating peppers into the sauce. With a little tweaking, this could actually be the ultimate mac and cheese.