Friday, August 6, 2010

Macaroni and Cheese

Don't be afraid to make this casserole in advance because it tastes just as good reheated. Also feel free to experiment with other cheeses.

(serves a crowd)

1 medium onion
4 c milk
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese
half of a baguette
6 Tbs unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
6 Tbs flour
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 lb macaroni elbows
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano (or other grating cheese)
2 Tbs olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring a large pot of salted pasta water to boil.

2. Finely dice the onion. Heat the milk in the microwave until warm. Grate the cheddar. Chop the baguette in a food processor to make about two cups of breadcrumbs.

3. In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter  over medium-low heat. Add the onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the onion softens, about 4-5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour darkens, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the mustard and Worcestershire sauce.

4. Switching to a whisk and raising the heat to medium, add the milk in a slow stream, whisking constantly to form a white sauce. Let the sauce come to a bare simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain the simmer.

5. Meanwhile, cook the macaroni until al dente. Drain and transfer to a 9- by 13-inch Pyrex baking dish.

6. Add the grated cheddar to the white sauce, stirring until the cheese melts. Pour the sauce over the macaroni and toss to combine.

7. Grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano and combine it in a medium bowl with the breadcrumbs and olive oil. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle this topping over the macaroni.

8. Bake the casserole in the center of the oven until the topping turns golden, about 15 minutes. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

• If you like, you can add a dried herb such as thyme or rosemary to the breadcrumb topping.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Eggplant with Mint and Feta

If you don’t grow your own mint, you can make do with a single bunch from the supermarket. But if you do grow your own, use a lot!

(serves four as a main course or eight as a side dish)

2 cloves garlic
juice of 2 lemons
kosher salt
2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large Italian eggplant
olive oil
6-8 oz feta cheese
1 bunch fresh mint
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp cayenne pepper

1. Peel and grate the garlic. Combine in a small bowl with the lemon juice and a large pinch of salt. Add the shallots and stir to coat. Set aside, stirring occasionally to keep the shallots marinating.

2. Trim and slice the eggplant into rounds ¼–½ inch thick. Using a brush, “paint” each slice with olive oil (both sides). At the same time, sprinkle each slice with a little salt.

3. Grill the eggplant until tender, about three minutes per side. Remove and let cool.

4. Crumble the feta. Remove the mint leaves from the stems, roll into cylinders (several at a time), and slice into quarter–inch ribbons.

5. After removing and reserving the shallots, add the cumin, the cayenne and 2 tablespoons olive oil to the lemon juice. Whisk to form a vinaigrette.

6. Line a serving platter with a layer of grilled eggplant. Top with some shallots, some feta, and some mint. Repeat until you have used all of the ingredients to compose a pleasing stack. Drizzle with the vinaigrette and serve.

• The easiest way to grate the garlic is with a Microplane rasp-style grater.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Spaghetti Carbonara

The trick to making this dish properly is to keep the eggs creamy while still cooking them sufficiently. I find that deglazing the skillet with a little pasta waster tempers the heat just the right amount.

(serves two adults and two children)

½ lb. bacon
1 medium onion
2 oz. parmesan cheese (to make about 1 cup grated)
½ bunch fresh parsley
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
1 lb. thick spaghetti

1. Bring a large pot of salted pasta water to a boil.

2. Dice the bacon and onion. Grate the cheese, chop the parsley, and combine. seasoning with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, and cream.

3. In a heavy skillet large enough to hold the pasta, cook the bacon over medium heat until barely crisp, about 10–12 minutes .Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 1–2 tablespoons of the bacon fat, reserving the rest. Reduce the heat to medium-low and sauté the onions. If the skillet seems dry, add back more bacon fat.

4. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. After reserving some of the pasta water, drain the spaghetti.

5. Remove the onions from the heat. Using two or three tablespoons of the pasta water, deglaze the skillet, scraping the bottom to dissolve the stuck-on bits. Add the drained pasta and toss to combine. 

6. Add the egg mixture and toss to coat the pasta. Add the bacon and the cheese mixture. Continue tossing until thoroughly combined.

• Use good-quality bacon that’s not too fatty or salty. Otherwise, pour off most of the rendered fat before adding the onion.

• I keep bacon in the freezer, which means that I can use part of a package as I need it. Also, frozen bacon is easier to chop than rubbery refrigerated bacon. I cut off what I need while the bacon is still frozen and let the slices separate by themselves as they cook in the pan.

• There are so few ingredients in this dish that you can’t hide bad cheese. The best Parmesan is imported Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is pricey; but even at sixteen dollars a pound, two ounces sets you back just two dollars.

• Because of the danger of salmonella, the Food and Drug Administration recommends that egg yolks be cooked thoroughly until firm. Firmly cooked yolks, however, are antithetical to a good carbonara. If you’re concerned about salmonella, you can keep the flame on underneath the skillet as you add the eggs.