Hyperbole is a dangerous tool for food bloggers. Yes, it’s easy to call something “the best” this or “the most amazing” that but do it too often, and you start to lose credibility. “If everything’s the best,” you might think, “then what makes this one any more special?”
Fair enough, ungentle reader, fair enough. But sometimes something just IS the best and then what do you do? Do you pretend it’s not the best and just call it what it is–in this case, a cheese casserole–or do you call a spade a spade and hang it all on the line and admit that this really is the best casserole ever? Allow me to martyr myself, then, hanging myself by my own hyperbole: the casserole you see above, a casserole called Cheese Love, is, by my reckoning, the best casserole ever. EVER!!!!
Phew, ok now that that’s off my chest, let me set up the story. You may be wondering, “Who are those strapping young lads modeling the best casserole ever in the above picture?”
“Jeffery and Cole Casserole” is the long-form version of a web show Jeffery and Cole have been making for a while called “The VGL Boys.” Here’s a food-related sample episode about Pinkberry:
So as you can see, these guys are funny and famous and as my newest, funniest most famous friends I wanted to make them dinner. But what to make them?
Since their show’s called “Jeffery and Cole Casserole,” I thought it was too obvious to make them a casserole for dinner. So I ditched that idea pretty early and meticulously flipped through every cookbook on my shelf–my Chez Panisses, my Barefoot Contessas–until I came full circle and remembered the best casserole I’d ever eaten, a casserole called Cheese Love from a casserole contest I judged from way back when.
The guys who created the recipe, Zack Schulman and Graham Kelly, urged the purchase of one key ingredient, the ingredient they said made their casserole the extraordinary casserole that it was: Bobolink Cheddar. Said Zack: “”I can’t over-emphasize the importance of the Bobolink cheddar in this recipe. It is generally only available directly from the farmer/cheesemaker and I know that it is expensive when compared to industrial cheeses, but I have tried making this without the Bobolink and it doesn’t come close in flavor, aroma or texture.”
Which is why, on the day Jeffery and Cole were coming to dinner (last Friday, as a matter of fact) I picked up a bunch of old books and loaded them into my backpack and headed to Union Square. Huh? Why did I do that? I did that because I sold those books at the Strand, made some cash and used that cash to buy 20 oz. of Bobolink Cheddar–that’s 1.25 pounds. Here it is back home on my counter:
And here it is unwrapped:
It cost about $25 and the woman who sold it to me said I didn’t have to refrigerate it. “Because it’s made with raw milk it has the enzymes to fight off bacteria” (or something like that.)
But it didn’t matter because I was immediately putting it to use. Before I dive into the recipe, I’ll disagree slightly with Zack and Graham and say that if you don’t live in New York and you can’t get your hands on Bobolink, you can still make this casserole. Just get the BEST cheddar you can. Tell your cheesemonger (assuming you have a cheesemonger) you’re going to make the best casserole ever and you need the best cheddar for such a purpose. They’ll hook you up, I promise.
Ok, so are you ready for the best casserole ever? Jeffery and Cole were blown away by it. Jeffery wrote on his blog, “It was very cheesy, delicious, had shitake mushrooms in it (one of my favorite things), noodles…. it was AMAZING. After we left, I wondered how long it would take Craig and Adam to discuss the grotesque number of second servings Cole and I got for ourselves.”
14 seconds, Jeffery. 14 seconds. Ok, on to the recipe!!
The Best Casserole of Your Life
by Zack Schulman and Graham Kelly
1 lb rotini or gemelli pasta
4 c whole milk
10-11 tbs butter
6 tbs flour
3/4 tsp paprika
20 oz. Bobolink Cave-Ripened Cheddar, shredded
Approx. 10 oz. smoked gouda, rind removed, shredded
1 bunch kale, stems removed
1 lb shitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps quartered [Note: don’t skip the shitakes, they’re the best part! I used half, though, because they were expensive.]
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1. Saute mushrooms in 6-7 tbs butter over medium heat until they reduce significantly in volume. Continue cooking until they become golden brown. Turn down heat and cook until the mushrooms reduce further and become a darker brown. Remove from heat.
2. Cook pasta a few minutes less than al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water.
3. Blanch and shock the kale. Drain water from the leaves and chop them.
4. Heat the milk to a simmer in a large pot.
5. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
6. Toss the shredded cheeses together in a bowl.
7. Melt the remaining 4 Tbs butter in a large heavy saucepan. Add the flour and whisk over low heat for about 5 minutes. Try not to let the flour butter mix brown. Remove from the heat.
8. Add the hot milk to the flour mixture and whisk it in well. Add the paprika, season with salt and pepper to taste, and return to heat on medium, whisking constantly until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.
Begin to mix in the cheese one handful at a time. Add about 2/3rds of the cheese to this mix, reserving about 1/3 of the cheese. Toss pasta, kale, and mushrooms into the mix and stir to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove from the heat.
9. Butter a large casserole dish. Fill with pasta/cheese/vegetable mixture. Evenly top the mix with the remaining shredded cheeses. Sprinkle with pepper.
[At this point, you can cover in plastic and place in the fridge, waiting for your guests to arrive before you bake it. It only takes 25 minutes, anyway, while you’re having drinks and appetizers.]
10. Bake until hot and a little bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes at 350.
11. Turn on the broiler and broil for about 3 to 5 minutes until the top becomes a sizzling-hot and deep golden brown color. (Don’t skip this step, that’s what makes it so pretty!)
There you have it—the best casserole ever. It lives up to the hyperbole.