Comfort Food: Mac and Cheese
1.27.11 § 23 Comments
You know lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time being sad, which is to be expected, considering what’s been going on in my life. On top of that, the snow and slushy weather isn’t helping much. What was that you said about seasonal affective disorder?
Fortunately, I’ve figured out how to keep myself happy, at least part of the time: comfort food. For me, the idea of “comfort food” has lately come to mean so much more than food that warms you up and fortifies you to face this kind of cold. The more important meaning, at least for the moment, is the comfort I’ve found in the preparation.
I get lost so easily in the rhythms of the kitchen: washing fresh vegetables, dicing onions, grating big blocks of cheese into messy piles and then scooping up the stray strands, popping them into my mouth like I don’t want anyone to notice…even though I’m alone. Those rituals I have in the kitchen are quickly becoming sacred to me, a refuge from the storm, so to speak.
To add to that, I’ve also been giving into small indulgences lately: caramelizing onions in a scoop of newly purchased duck fat instead of butter, buying the slightly more expensive but definitely better tasting cheese, and then using just a bit more than the recipe calls for. Actually, if we’re being completely honest, I always add extra cheese.
And you know what? It’s making me feel better. So for now, I’m going to stick with it. I’m also starting to take hot yoga classes to balance out those “indulgences.” (I bought a 30-class card, which is basically the equivalent of forcing myself to do something active. As in, I can’t stand to waste the money, so I know I’ll go to class. Whatever works. Right?) Regardless, I’m working really hard to find some kind of balance, since the equilibrium of my universe has been a bit off lately.
But seriously, what’s better after a good workout than a huge bowl of macaroni and cheese? And if sometimes there is so much snow on the ground that you skip yoga, that’s okay too. Right? Just say yes.
Artisanal Macaroni and Cheese
adapted from SAVEUR
1 large yellow onion, diced
Kosher salt, to taste
12 oz. hollow pasta, such as penne
8 tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup panko
1 cup freshly grated parmesan (about 1 oz)
1/4 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk (not skim)
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere (about 4 oz)
1 1/2 cups grated Comté or Cantal (about 4 oz)
1 1/2 cups grated fontina (about 4 oz)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
First, begin to caramelize the onions. (I diced the onions and started them before I even grated my cheese.) Melt your fat of choice (probably butter, although in this instance, I used 2 tbsp duck fat instead of butter, just because I could) in a medium skillet. Place the onion in the skillet and cover with a lid. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes to sweat the onions. Remove lid and continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cook your pasta until not quite al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Melt 3 tbsp of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the panko and parmesan, stir to mix. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Wipe out the saucepan and put it over medium heat. Melt the last 3 tbsp of butter and whisk in your flour until smooth. Now whisk in the milk, cooking and whisking often until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Stir in all of the Gruyere, 1 cup of the Comté, and 1 cup of fontina. Whisk until cheese is melted and incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from heat and stir in your pasta. Pour the mixture into a 2 quart baking dish and top with the remaining Comté and fontina. Sprinkle the panko-parmesan mixture over the top.
Place the baking dish on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet and put in the oven. (Mine ran over, so I definitely recommend putting something under your baking dish.) Bake until golden brown and bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.