Every time I make a mac and cheese I declare it the best I’ve ever made. There’s a reason for that. I grew up hating mac and cheese (also lasagna) because my dad hated cheese. So if a friend’s mom made it for dinner, I’d move it around on my plate and feign a sudden bout of appendicitis. It wasn’t until I got older and started eating cheese with my cheese-loving friends that I came back around to mac. As I started making it myself, and understood what it really was–a white sauce with lots of cheese melted into it, spread over noodles and baked–I could appreciate it as a way to put obscene amounts of cheese on a plate and call it dinner. I’ve made many an obscene mac and cheese since then (one with three cups of cream, one with blue cheese, Gruyere and cheddar) but the most obscene–and delicious–of all may be the one I just made from my friend Garrett McCord’s new cookbook Melt. It’s a mac and cheese for the ages.
Funny, I was running on a treadmill when this wonderful gut-bomb of a recipe came into my life. Naturally, I was watching The Barefoot Contessa and she was planning a romantic weekend with Jeffrey, prepping the meal ahead so they could spend the day at Sag Harbor and have a montage of Ina laughing (what a laugh!) while Jeffery awkwardly asks, as if it’s spontaneous, “How are you going to make dinner tonight if we’ve been running around all day?” Ina winks at the camera because we know, like she knows, that the mac and cheese is already made. It’s in the refrigerator next to the lemon curd for the lemon tart. Jeffery has no idea what’s coming and the whole thing is so riveting, I’ve gone three miles and don’t want to stop. Such is the power of watching Ina at the gym.
The easiest mac and cheese is the one from the box. The next one up, though, may be this one: instead of making a béchamel with butter, flour and milk–an easy enough process, but a process nonetheless–you heat three cups of cream and dump a bunch of grated cheese into it. You flavor the resulting sauce with garlic, onion, mustard, Tabasco, and Worcestershire sauce until the flavors are bold and then mix it up with boiled macaroni. Pour into a baking dish, top with Parmesan and breadcrumbs, and into a hot oven it goes: 30 to 40 minutes later, you have a real deal mac and cheese that has dinner guests, like the ones you see above (that’s Michael and John), fighting for the first bite.
The Mac & Cheese you see above was created by yours truly without a recipe. I don’t know if you find that impressive, but I’m certainly impressed with myself.
It all started when I made those roasted red peppers you saw in the previous post. The next night, I had those in the fridge and I also had our latest shipment of the Cheese of the Month Club from Murray’s Cheese. That shipment contained both cheddar and Emmentaler, both of which I thought might work in a mac & cheese. Since I also had milk and some flour, I knew I could make this happen.
As autumn conquers summer, and I stroll through the Union Square Farmer’s Market, I start to panic and worry about all the fruits and vegetables I didn’t buy during those precious few warm-weather months. Which explains why, during one Saturday saunter, I came home with four giant red peppers.
I didn’t really have a red pepper agenda, but after watching this red pepper video on Food52 I decided I wanted to roast them. Then marinate them. And who knew that from that simple act I’d get three more dishes: a sandwich, a salad, and a gussied-up mac & cheese?