Good news! We are officially in autumn territory! That means that all I want to do these days is go apple picking, roast pumpkin seeds, watch leaves change colors, breathe in crisp air, wear sweaters, drink cider, and oh yeah… eat all kinds of food that I would think twice about during bathing suit season. (Ok, ok, so I always eat whatever I want, but I think about it twice before I eat it in the summer.) In my mind, fall is the best season for going out on adventures, then snuggling up with people you love, and chowing down on comfort food. And today I want to talk about the single most beloved comfort food on the face of the earth: macaroni and cheese.
Ok, that might be a bit strong. Macaroni and cheese might tie grilled cheese or pizza or . Actually, being the good German girl I am, my ultimate comfort food is homemade spaetzle. But, ANYWAYS, what I’m trying to get at is that macaroni and cheese, while maybe not everyone’s absolute favorite, is incredibly well-liked by almost everyone.
Now that I’ve thoroughly beaten the comfort-food-popularity-contest debate into the ground, I’ll get to my point. I’ve always liked mac and cheese the way most people do. It’s cheesy, warm, homey, and all around tasty. It’s hard to screw up and often, it’s a safe bet when you’re looking for something to stick to your ribs and generally make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
But this recipe changed all that. See, I don’t like this mac and cheese, I LOVE this mac and cheese. This is a recipe that you will make and it might just become dinner legend. As in, “Wait… you’re making THE mac and cheese for dinner?! Yessss…” Yep, in my family, all you have to say is, “I’m making that really good mac and cheese,” and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about.
This pasta tastes like… well, just about everything I love about every good food I’ve ever eaten. It has lots of subtle, delicate flavors, while still being hearty and easy to love. The mushrooms, white wine, and fresh herbs balance out the cheesy richness of the dish, while the small bit of truffle oil plays at the back of your tongue until after you’ve eaten the last little bit off your fork. The most discerning foodie will be impressed, along with your 4-year-old. It would be just as appropriate to serve at a dinner party in individual ramekins as it would be to eat out of a casserole dish in front of the TV. It’s almost a shame to call it macaroni and cheese, because the name doesn’t do it justice.
This is also one of the recipes that everyone always loved, but was labeled as “special occasion” because it was, to be honest, a bit of a pain to make. In looking over the recipe a few weeks ago, it didn’t seem so bad, except for a slightly long list of ingredients, a few that are maybe a tad hard to find. But other than that, I couldn’t quite remember why it was so bad.
And then I realized- the last time I made it I didn’t have an immersion blender. Call it an “Aha!” moment, if you will. See the original recipe calls for you to cook the sauce, then pour the hot, cheesy mixture into a blender to puree until smooth. In. Two. Batches. This may not sound so bad, but come back and talk to me after you’ve poured a huge pot of melted chunky cheese into a blender, pureed, poured that cheese into a separate bowl (another dish?!), then poured the rest of the melted chunky cheese into a blender, pureed, poured that back into the pot, then poured the bowl of melty cheese back into the pot. For a klutz like me, that’s a lot of pouring of hot melty liquid back and forth. In other words, a recipe for a mess, as well as a few first-degree burns.
An immersion blender makes the whole thing easier, completely eliminating the need for the cheese sauce to ever leave the pot. If you don’t have one, though, this is still worth making. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the melty cheese.
Truffled Macaroni and Cheese with Prosciutto, Leeks, and Mushrooms
adapted from this recipe
This recipe originally called for Taleggio, a semi-soft white Italian cheese. It’s creamy and a little tangy… actually, it’s really wonderful. But it can sometimes be hard to find, and when you do find it, it can be expensive. So I did a little experiment this time around and swapped it out for a mixture of provolone and mozzarella. It turned out beautifully, and I could hardly tell the difference. The other flavors are so powerful in this, you don’t miss the expensive cheese. Bottom line: Use whatever semi-soft, mild Italian white cheese that strikes your fancy.
Also, if you don’t have truffle oil, it’s ok, this is still fabulous without it. But if you can manage, buy just a small amount for this… it puts this mac and cheese over the top… and into “special occasion” territory.
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped (about 2/3 cup)
2 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
3 cups whipping cream
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 pound semi-soft white Italian cheese, such as Taleggio, Mozzarella, or Provolone, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-pound small elbow macaroni
6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped* (about 1 3/4 cup)
6 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon (or more) white truffle oil (if using)
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (made from crustless egg bread)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add next 5 ingredients; sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add wine and simmer until almost all liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Add cream, thyme sprigs, bay leaf and peppercorns; bring to simmer. Reduce heat to low; simmer until slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the cheeses. Stir until melted and smooth. Pick out and discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs. Cool sauce slightly. Puree sauce in the pot, using an immersion blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat broiler. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, but still firm to bite.
While pasta cooks, make the crumb topping. Mix first 3 ingredients in small bowl. Melt butter in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumb mixture and sauté until golden and coated with butter, about 2 minutes.
Drain pasta well. Add to sauce along with prosciutto, chives, parsley, and 1 teaspoon truffle oil; toss to coat. Mix in additional truffle oil, if desired. Divide macaroni and cheese among 8 individual gratin dishes, or pour into one large 9×13 baking dish. Top each with the crumb topping. Broil until topping is crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes, and serve.