Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Triple-Smoky Mac & Cheese

It’s taking me a while to write these posts, sorry about that! So, the Engineer gave me a vegetarian cookbook for Christmas, Herbivoracious (from the author of the blog of the same name). There are tons of recipes in there that look really good, though I must admit I haven’t done the methodical sweep where I stick Post-It tabs on the interesting pages (I’ve done that to several cookbooks lately, and I’m pretty much out of tabs is why). The Engineer actually picked the first recipe I should try, this triple-smoky mac & cheese. I realize we might have a mac & cheese obsession in this household! I modified it a little to make it lactose-free (though it still has a lot of dairy), and I’ve written those modifications below. The thing is that it can be hard to find a cheese that is both smoky and lactose-free, so I used regular cheese (and gruyere instead of mozzarella) as well as a little liquid smoke, to compensate.

It might seem like an extra hassle to make the bread crumbs yourself, but it really wasn’t hard, and it is SO worth it! They are far superior to store-bought bread crumbs, and add a wonderful crunch to the dish – it wouldn’t be the same without it. I recommend that you only spread a minimal amount on the pasta as you are baking it, and reserve the rest of the crumbs. Then, when you reheat leftovers, toast the crumbs again in a skillet and top the mac & cheese before serving, so that the crumbs stay crunchy.

The Engineer loved this dish and exclaimed, “It’s everything I was hoping for!” I liked it, but could have done with a little less smoke (the Engineer respectfully disagrees, and has already requested that I make this again).

This makes about 6 servings.

For the bread crumbs
6 slices of stale bread (or fresh bread, toasted)
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, grated

Grate the bread in a food processor, using the grating blade. Empty the crumbs from the bowl and replace the grating blade with the regular steel blade. Put the crumbs back in the processor bowl and process until the crumbs reach the desired texture.

Heat the oil in your largest skillet over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot, add the bread crumbs, salt and garlic. Toast, stirring frequently, until the crumbs are well-browned and crispy, about 10 minutes.

Set aside to cool and use as needed. Store what you are not using immediately in a zipper-top plastic bag at room temperature, or in the freezer for longer term storage.

For the mac & cheese
1 lb. elbow macaroni (or other short pasta)
6 Tbsp. butter or vegan margarine, divided
¼ cup all purpose-flour
4 cups lactose-free whole milk
1 tsp. liquid smoke (if neither cheese is smoked)
½ onion, finely diced
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. rosemary, minced
1 chipotle pepper (canned in adobo sauce), minced, or ¼ cup Frontera chipotle sauce
1 tsp. oregano
¼ tsp. nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
8 oz. lactose-free cheddar, grated
8 oz. lactose-free gruyère, grated
salt, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the macaroni according to package directions, draining when it is just becoming al dente. This will bake more in the oven, so don't overcook it. Drain and toss with 2 Tbsp. butter.

Preheat oven to 350 °F and grease a large baking dish.

In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 4 Tbsp. of butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk pretty constantly for 3 minutes. Whisk in the milk and liquid smoke. Add the onion, smoked paprika, rosemary, chipotle, oregano, and nutmeg. Simmer, whisking occasionally until it begins to thicken.

Gradually whisk in the grated cheeses, stirring each batch to incorporate.

Taste the sauce, and adjust the seasoning to your preference. It will probably need a little salt, but maybe not too much depending on the cheeses. Add more spiciness if desired. Remember that the sauce should be pretty intense because it is going to be diluted by a full pound of pasta.

Stir the macaroni into the sauce. Pour the macaroni into the prepared pan. (It will look really liquid, but don’t worry, it turns out great!)

Top with the garlicky breadcrumbs (you might not need all of them; see note above). I actually put the crumbs on top of the pasta only about 5 minutes before taking the whole thing out of the oven, because I didn’t want them too brown, and I was satisfied with the result.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until you can see bubbling around the sides and the breadcrumbs are nicely browned.

Let stand for 5-10 minutes (to set) and serve.

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