Mac with Cheddar, Gruyere & Blue Cheese

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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.

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Socca (An Italian Beef, Cabbage & Potato Casserole)

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What’s the heartiest dish you know how to make? Chances are, this is heartier.

Picture it: a pestata (or paste) is made with lots of garlic, sage, rosemary and olive oil. That paste is used to flavor sliced red potatoes and cubed beef shoulder which get layered in a giant casserole with cabbage. Then the remaining pestata is mixed with white wine, poured over the mix, which has been dotted with butter. Into a hot oven it goes for 2 1/2 hours, after which the whole thing is topped with grated Fontina cheese and returned to the oven for it to bubble and brown. I told you this was hearty.

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Broccoli Cheddar Casserole with Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

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Eating paste has a special allure, when you’re a kid. First off, there’s the smell, which is chemical and funky. Then there’s the texture, the main pleasure behind eating paste, a texture like white peanut butter, but thicker, barely spreadable with the little wooden stick you dab into the jar. I’m not sure that I ate a lot of paste as a kid (though I was definitely a kid of whom people probably said, “He eats a lot of paste”) but I do believe I’ve found the adult corollary: canned cream of mushroom soup.

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The Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan

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Mario Batali’s recipe for Eggplant Parmesan–which I consider, in my humble opinion, to be the Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan–does something most Eggplant Parmesan recipes don’t: it honors the eggplant.

Instead of coating slices of eggplant in egg and breadcrumbs, frying them in a skillet, and piling them up with tomato sauce and cheese until you have a gloppy mess, here you roast the eggplant slices first–concentrating their natural flavor–and you pile those pieces up in a baking dish with tomato sauce and cheese, but because they’re not pan-fried, you don’t get a greasy, muddy cacophony; you get a harmonious whole topped with a gentle layer of breadcrumbs that crisps up in the oven. Again: The Ultimate Eggplant Parmesan.

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Birthday Lasagna

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For Craig’s birthday this year, I didn’t take him to a fancy dinner as I’ve done in years past (see here, here and here). This year his birthday had two components: (1) a dinner at home with his favorite foods; and (2) a weekend trip to Palm Springs. You’ll hear about Palm Springs later this week, but this post concerns that dinner at home. When I asked what he wanted for his entree, Craig, a little like Garfield, had one word in his speech balloon: “Lasagna.”

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Easy Mac and Cheese

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The easiest mac and cheese is the one from the box. The next one up, though, may be this one: instead of making a b├ęchamel 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.

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Lasagne alla Bolognese al Forno (Or: The Ultimate Lasagna)

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Growing up, if I visited a friend and that friend’s mother was cooking dinner, one word would make me run away screaming. That word was “lasagna.”

Theories for why this was the case: (1) I grew up in a non-lasagna household; (2) it was a non-lasagna household because (a) my dad hates cheese and (b) he grew up in a semi-kosher home where meat and cheese were never mixed. Therefore, not only was lasagna exotic to me, it was scary. If I did have to stay at a friend’s for dinner and lasagna was served, I’d do my best to peel it apart and to eat some of the noodles, some of the filling, but to mostly mush it around on my plate.

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White Lasagna

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When I get invited to dinner parties, these days, I pretty much make it a policy not to take pictures. This takes the pressure off the host or hostess, who may be nervous that their food blogging friend is scrutinizing every bite, preparing to skewer them for all the world to see on his food blog the next morning. Mostly, though it takes the pressure off me: by not taking pictures, there’s no expectation that I’m going to blog about it. So if you’re wondering why the sweet potato souffle you cooked for me didn’t make it on to the blog (that’s just a hypothetical) it’s most likely a function of my policy. Unless, of course, you cook me the lasagna in the photo above.

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