Ok. It’s time to take a culinary exhale. Because after the frenzy of holiday cooking we have all been through I feel it’s time to get back to basics. Something comforting and familiar. Something that just makes you want to cuddle up with the one you love. Something like Mac & Cheese!
In fact a simple dish like Macaroni and Cheese is exactly what I am craving. But simple can be elegant and it can be creative. So I have decided to take old-fashioned Macaroni and Cheese, and rev it up a notch. First I plan to use the very best cheese I can get from Wisconsin. And while yummy yellow cheddar makes a great Mac & Cheese, I have another idea in mind.
I think I’ll add chunks of lobster, as well as creamy mascarpone. It’s more seafood friendly than cheddar. Besides, this combination really helps this familiar, everyday food assume the comfort and luxury of cashmere!
To put my plan in motion I turned to my cookbooks for guidance. But none of the recipes came close to my fantasy of what the dish should be. I wanted chewy pasta suspended in molten cheese, with a chewy, golden-brown cheesy crust on top. And plenty of perfectly cooked lobster tail. I guess I’ll need to develop my own recipe.
One of the best recipes I have ever used for Mac & Cheese comes from Martha Stewart. She starts with a flour-based roux and adds cheese. She calls it Macaroni and Cheese 101. And I gotta admit it’s pretty close to perfection. Except one thing. It relies on cheddar. Now I love cheddar, but feel it may be a bit strong with the delicate flavor and texture of lobster.
So I kept looking. Then I saw this passage from a 20-year-old cookbook called Simple Cooking.
A good dish of macaroni and cheese is hard to find these days. The recipes in most cookbooks are not to be trusted…usually it is their vexatious infatuation with white sauce, a noxious paste of flour-thickened milk, for this dish flavored with a tiny grating of cheese. Contrary to popular belief, this is not macaroni and cheese but macaroni with cheese sauce. It is awful stuff and every cookbook in which it appears should be thrown out the window.
Wow. Strong words. I wonder if Martha Stewart has read that book?
I thought more information was needed. So I turned to Marlena Spieler, author of the book Macaroni and Cheese. At least the title sounds on subject! In thumbing through her book it seems that she likes a lot of cheese in her recipes. Good for her. But she refuses to forgo white sauce.
Which makes sense to me. Because have you noticed that some Macaroni and Cheese recipes get a little pasty? Well that’s because the proteins in cheese naturally clump when heated. This can make the cheese seem grainy.
Processed cheeses like Velveeta or plain old American cheese have gone through a process that denatures the proteins in the cheese. It allows the cheese to melt and maintain a consistently creamy texture. But I won’t be using processed cheese in my Mac. No way. No how. As I said, I am using the best cheese from Wisconsin.
So in my recipe I decided to use a roux in my base, but to also add lots and lots of cheese. The roux acts as a binder and helps with the texture of the cheese. I’ll just use way more than the traditional cheese sauces that the author of Simple Recipes so distains. Because I want this dish to be unmistakably cheesy.
In the end I settled on fontina, because it melts so nicely and is mild enough to pair with lobster without overpowering it. But I think the secret to my recipe’s cheesy success lies in mascarpone, just enough to add a subtle layer of sweetness. This touch sweet mimics the lobster in the most luxurious way!
The next issue is the pasta itself. In my opinion the pasta cannot be slippery, soft or mushy. Traditional macaroni is too small to stay firm and substantial given the amount of cooking I plan to give this casserole. So I chose a chewier cavatappi with a bit more heft. It still has the familiar twist and curve of the elbow variety so it will maintain a traditional look. Also, to help with the ‘tooth’ of the pasta I plan to cook it just part way before mixing in the cheese. This way it can finish cooking in the sauce and come out perfectly.
The last decision to top or not to top is easily dispensed with– the answer is: Yes. Yes. Of course yes. I used plenty of buttery breadcrumbs and another healthy handful of cheese. Because the moral of the story is, when in doubt, add more cheese.
- 1 lb cavatappi or elbow macaroni
- 1 t vegetable oil
- 1 1⁄2 lb cooked lobster meat
- 6 T unsalted butter
- 1⁄4 c flour
- 4 c whole milk
- 1 c mascarpone cheese
- 4 T clam juice
- 1⁄4 t cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- 1⁄4 t freshly ground nutmeg
- 3 c fontina cheese, grated
- salt and white pepper, as needed
- 1⁄2 c chives, minced
- 1⁄2 c scallions white and light green parts , thinly sliced
- 1⁄2 c extra-sharp white cheddar, finely grated
- 1 1⁄2 c fresh white breadcrumbs (about 5 slices with crusts removed)
Heat oven to 375°. Bring a 4‑qt. saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost cooked, about 6 minutes. Drain pasta, transfer to a bowl, toss with the oil and set aside.
Pull out about half of the biggest, firmest pieces of lobster, then neatly slice it into attractive pieces. Roughly chop the rest.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a 4 quart saucepan set over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until smooth, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk and cook, continuing to whisk often, until sauce has thickened and coats the whish, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in mascarpone, along with the clam juice, cayenne, and nutmeg; stir until smooth. Return the mixture to low heat and add 2 cups fontina cheese, stirring until smooth; season with salt and white pepper. Add reserved pasta to cheese sauce. Stir in the chopped lobster, half of the chives, and half of the scallions.
Transfer mixture to a 9″ x 13″ or similar capacity baking dish and sprinkle with remaining fontina and the cheddar. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on the top. Let cool for 10 minutes. Garnish with remaining lobster slices, scallions, and chives.
This was a sponsored post from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. They’ve collaborated with 30 different food bloggers to create 30 inventive recipes for the classic dish — Macaroni & Cheese. CLICK here for more great Macaroni & Cheese recipes.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD