Mac & 7 Cheeses

My husband and I avoid processed foods almost exclusively. It started out against our will, when we discovered that his decade long diagnosis of a rare form of psoriasis was actually a gluten allergy known as dermatitis herpetiformis. Few processed foods are gluten free, so they were cut from our diet. Then, we became gung-ho on healthy eating and now the solid majority of our food is non-processed, save for items like dairy and the like.

No processed food, and, obviously, GF living, means that an early staple food of our marriage, mac & cheese from the blue box (don't pretend you don't know exactly what I'm talking about) purchased in mass quantities from Costco became a non-option. I decided recently to give homemade mac and cheese a go, and this is what I came up with:

One word is all this needs: YUM.
Mac & 7 Cheeses (a secret ninja recipe adapted from this gem from Ina Garten)

**NOTES: This recipe fed 15 people PLUS my husband for a week, as in 3 full sized casserole dishes, so reduce as you see fit.  Also, it's TOTALLY not healthy- I only ate about 1/4 cup of a serving. It was delicious, and I didn't need anymore than that.  Cook at your own risk!

3 8-oz boxes gluten free (GF) pasta (we love this one!)
6 slices thick-cut bacon
6 cups milk (2% or whole are best)
1 stick butter
1/2 cup cornstarch
8 oz gruyere, shredded
8 oz fontina, shredded
8 oz sharp white cheddar, shredded
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
4 oz parmigiano reggiano, shredded
4 oz mozzarella, shredded
4 oz sharp yellow cheddar, shredded
freshly ground black pepper
nutmeg (use a whole one on one of these- my FAVORITE kitchen tool!)
freshly ground sea salt (optional; not needed if you use salted butter)

Crisp Bread Crumb Topping:
4 cups GF bread crumbs (I chopped up some of these and saved them in the freezer until I made this recipe!)
olive oil sprayer
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped (dried is ok; fresh is best)

1. Heat oven to 400 F

2. Place bacon on baking rack (or cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil if you don't have a baking rack) and bake to desired texture- about 12 minutes for chewy bacon, 18-20 for crisp.  Remove when done and blot with paper towels when cool enough to handle to remove excess grease.  Crumble and set aside.

3. Place bread crumbs on cookie sheet, spray lightly with olive oil (optional, but makes for a crisper topping), and toast for7-10 minutes (depending on your oven! Keep an eye on them!); set aside to cool for a few minutes.

4. Turn oven down to 375F

5. Prepare pasta per directions on box.  DO NOT OVERCOOK; since this will bake in the oven overcooked pasta will turn into a nasty mess.  I chose to put a little olive oil in the water to ensure the pasta didn't stick together, since GF pasta is a little more finicky.  If if you aren't doing GF then you likely won't need it.  Lightly rinse cooked pasta, and set it aside.

6. On a back burner, heat milk in a saucepan.  You don't want it to boil, so I set mine to medium for about 5 minutes, then backed it down two clicks until my rue (butter and cornstarch, or flour if you aren't doing gluten free) was ready.

7. Melt butter in preheated 6-qt or other BIG saucepan (use something with a heavy bottom, that conducts heat well, and preferably nonstick) on medium.  I LOVE this chef's pan and HIGHLY recommend it.  When fully melted, use silicon whisk (mine was $2 at Ikea!) to slowly whisk in cornstarch and make a rue.  Continue to whisk while cooking 2-4 minutes, until mixture starts to turn a golden brown color.

8.  Continually whisking, slowly- SLOWLY!- whisk in heated milk.  Still whisking, cook 2-3 minutes, until mixture is smooth and thickens together.

9.  Slowly add in cheeses.  I added them in the order listed above, though I don't think it makes a huge difference.  I added each in 4 oz increments, consistently stirring, until the mixture was totally melted and smooth, before adding the next.  This does wonders for texture!

10.  Once your cheeses are all added, grate in nutmeg and pepper to taste- I did about 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and a full teaspoon of pepper, plus a couple twists of salt.  GENTLY stir in pasta.  Turn off heat, but if your pan is heavy bottomed you can leave it on the burner for a few moments while you prepare the crumb topping.

11.  Place breadcrumbs and basil in a food processor and pulse until basil is completely distributed throughout the breadcrumbs.  [Don't have a food processor?  Then do a super fine chop of the basil and place with breadcrumbs in a large Ziploc bag; you can roll over it with a rolling pin or glass car, squeeze it with your hands- whatever works!]

12.  Place mac & cheese mixture in glass baking dishes (I used three 9x13 casserole dishes).  Top each with crumbled bacon and then breadcrumb mixture.  Bake in oven for 45 minutes, or until bubbly brown and delicious.  You may want to place a cookie sheet or tinfoil on the rack below your dish if it's near the top- I made a major mess in my oven!  Also, depending on your oven size, you may need to cook the third dish separately.  Of course, if you cook a more "normal" amount of this then that won't be a problem!

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