Mac & Cheese aka Spat & Cheese

gimme, get me, I wantWhat the world really needs is another entry into the mac & cheese wars. Martha has an awesome one, Paula Deen has at least a couple up her sleeve and every comfort food cook has a version. Some health conscious chain even gave us deep fried mac & cheese. How thoughtful of them.

My version is all about you. You can adjust flavors, cheeses and fillings. I'm going to give you some simple rules to follow. Maybe you can get a salvo in at the next mac & cheese showdown.

Rule 1. Make spatzle instead of pasta. It's lighter, browns nicely and shows you care.

Rule 2. Make a simple bechamel sauce. Mastering the Art of French Cooking is still all the rage isn't it? There is a fool proof recipe in there

Rule 3. Pig is King. Add some crispy pork product.  I used some homemade tasso ham that had a nice kick. The bechamel lets the spice and smoke mix nicely without dominating the flavor or texture. It is mac and cheese after all. You can add shallots, broccoli, anything just use a light touch. Notice I kept the broccoli on the side. Less is more sometimes

Rule 4. Choose your cheese blend wisely. Mild cheeses melt easier, stronger cheeses (good veined cheese) can become overpowering. Think cheddar, gouda, gruyere, comte. Accent them with a sharper asiago, parm, bleu.

Here's how it went down in the AgaKitchen, which was very messy today. Bad Gerry. Feeds 2 1/2 normal people. Recipe blows up well. Kitchen slang for increasing a recipe.

Spatzle

  • 1 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups AP flour seasoned well with salt
  • 2/3 cup of eggs or 3 fresh eggs beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 Tablespoons or so of chopped chives or herbs of your choice
  • 1 Tablespoon of good mustard
  • 3 or 4 good turns of the peppermill

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. In a steel bowl add the flour and herbs. Make a well in the center and add the eggs and milk. Using a fork pull the flour into the eggs until a nice stiff dough forms. Here is an older post on spatzle if you need a little help from here.

Bechamel

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1 Tablespoon fat, butter is fine, I used lard
  • 1 Tablespoon plus a teaspoon of flour
  • salt and pepper, white pepper traditionally goes in white sauces.

Heat the milk and cream, in a separate pan melt the fat, add the flour, whisk and cook for a minute, add the warm milk mixture and cook over medium heat whisking vigorously for a another minute or two.

To Assemble

  • 1 cup plus cheese of your choice
  • 3 oz of tasso ham small dice crisped up in a hot pan
  • spatzle, recipe above
  • bechamel, recipe above
  • 1/2 cup crumbled Ritz crackers or buttery breadcrumbs

In a steel bowl toss evrything but the crumbs together. Put in a 6x6 heavy baking dish. Sprinkle crumbs on top and bake at 375 until bubbly and brown. About 20 minutes if everything is warm. 35 minutes if you start from cold.

What do you mean start from cold? Here's the kicker. You can make this mix it all up put in a pan and back in the fridge. When you come home from work turn on oven and Oprah and pop it in. Stressed for time, nuke it a minute to take the chill out. You can even freeze it, but it will suffer a little.

Cook like you mean it, G

the end, OK maybe a little for lunch tomorrow