Every so often I make something that’s entirely my own. I wanted to have macaroni and cheese for this long holiday weekend, and after checking out some possibilities in Marlena Spieler’s Macaroni and Cheese, I decided that I might as well roll my own from ingredients I had on hand. I only needed to buy one ingredient: the cheese. I don’t do mac & cheese all that often, but I had plenty of pasta to use (too much, as it turned out), plus milk, butter, flour, onion, and bacon. Here’s the parts list:
|500 g||fusilli (but see below)|
|1 oz (30 g)||butter|
|1 oz (30 g)||all-purpose flour|
|2 cups (480 ml)||low-fat milk|
|5||scallions, white part minced and greens roughly chopped|
|8 oz (225 g)||sharp cheddar cheese, shredded|
|1 cup (or to taste)||frozen peas|
|5 rashers||smoky thick-cut bacon, rendered and crumbled|
|salt and pepper to taste|
For the bread-crumb topping:
|½ cup (35 g)||panko|
|1 tbl (15 g)||butter|
|¼ cup (20 g)||Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated fine|
|2 tbl (or to taste)||chopped parsley|
Starting, as always, with the mise en place, you’ll note that I’ve already rendered the bacon. I kept the bacon fat for another recipe — it will not be used here — and let the bacon drain on a paper towel. The scallions (left over from last weekend — otherwise I would have used shallot and/or yellow onion) were separated into whites and greens, and I minced the white part while keeping the greens in relatively large pieces. A variety of cheeses are appropriate for this sort of dish, but I chose cheddar as having a reasonably strong but not overpowering flavor and being easy to incorporate into a cheese sauce. The peas were just leftovers.
To start, I melted some butter in a small saucepan and used it to toast the panko. Panko generally doesn’t color all that much in the oven unless you really broil it, which I didn’t want to do — this dish is really pretty well cooked before it goes into the oven — so toasting it gives it better texture and color without killing the casserole. After toasting, I put the panko in a bowl, and once it was cooled, I mixed in the Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped parsley.
It’s really hard to take good photos of the next few stovetop steps, so I don’t have any, sorry. The minced scallion whites are cooked in the remaining butter until softened, then flour is added to make a roux, which is cooked until lightly colored. The milk, having been previously heated in the microwave, is whisked into the roux, and the resulting mixture is heated over medium heat, whisking constantly, to make a smooth, moderately thick bechamel sauce. I added a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper for seasoning, then reduced the heat and gradually added the shredded cheddar to make the cheese sauce. While all this was going on, I was also cooking the fusilli, which I took off the stove a minute or two early, drained, and returned to the cooking vessel. I added the bacon, scallion greens, and frozen peas to the pot, then dumped the cheese sauce on top, mixing everything well. It was at this point that I noticed I had made too much pasta — I almost certainly should have used about a third less to have a more ideal cheese sauce-to-pasta ratio. (So if you want to follow this recipe, try 300–350 g rather than the 500 g package that I used!)
At this point, I had to root around in my cabinets for an appropriate casserole dish to bake this in. I had initially grabbed a soufflé dish, but that was clearly too small (I could tell even without dirtying it, which is saying something), so I went for a glazed terra cotta casserole from Italy, leaving the lid behind, which turned out to be almost exactly the right size. (If I had used a smaller amount of pasta, as suggested above, it would have all fit in the soufflé.)
I figured a single serving would be about one sixth of the casserole. Not sure how well I did — but you can see quite clearly that more cheese sauce and less pasta would have been an improvement. But what sauce there is does cling nicely to the fusilli, so I got that part sort of right, anyway. And the taste was pretty good, although again because there was too much pasta it’s hard to say definitively whether there was enough of the other ingredients. Next year maybe I’ll try something more complicated from the Spieler cookbook and see how it compares.
This will need recalculating for a smaller amount of pasta (or else a larger quantity of cheese sauce, should you choose to go that route, but I think the former is easier). The calculation below doesn’t reflect the amount of salt and pepper I added, and other herbs and vegetables could certainly be used depending on your preference.
|Serving size: 1/6 casserole|
|Servings per recipe: 6|
|Amount per serving|
|Calories 637||Calories from fat 216|
|% Daily Value|
|Total Fat 24g||36%|
|Saturated Fat 13g||65%|
|Trans Fat 0g|||
|Total Carbohydrate 76g||25%|
|Dietary fiber 4g||17%|