Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mediterranean Macaroni and Cheese | Cookout . 4

Mac and cheese is a quintissential comfort food and kid-friendly classic. This recipe takes it on a Mediterranean detour with Parmesan, black olives and hot peppers.

You’ll notice that several of the ingredients in this recipe aren’t quantified but indicated as to taste, a phrase usually tacked on in most recipes after the words salt and pepper. To taste means just that. You taste the food, gradually adding a particular ingredient until it is just to your taste.

Chefs are constantly tasting their food, as chef Gordon Ramsey does and continually emphasizes to the contestants of Hell’s Kitchen must always be done. He sees it as a key to cooking. Home cooks frequently just follow a recipe and first taste the food when it arrives at the table.

To season this recipe to taste start with a small quantity of an item. Whisk a teaspoon of paprika into the cheese sauce - then taste it. If you’d prefer a more pronounced paprika flavor, whisk in another teaspoon - then taste again. Continue this way until you’ve got things to your taste (or perhaps your kid’s). Repeat this process with the hot peppers and salt and pepper.

Ingredients ...
2 pounds elbow macaroni
8 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup plus/minus flour
8 cups 2% milk
1-1/2 pounds extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 pound Parmesan cheese, grated
1 large onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced and mashed with salt
3 stalks celery, finely diced
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets, steamed
1 6.3 ounce jar black olives, finely sliced
1 large bunch parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped (optional)
paprika, to taste
jalapeno peppers, finely chopped, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
4 cups fresh bread crumbs

Preparation ...
1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
2. Melt 1 ounce of butter in a skillet. Saute the onion over a low flame for 15 minutes or so to caramelize it. Add the garlic and celery, cooking for another 5 minutes or so.
3. While the onion cooks, steam the cauliflower until it's tender but firm.
4. Melt 7 ounces of the butter in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in flour until a thin paste forms, stirring continuously, and cook for several minutes.
5. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Gradually whisk in the cheeses.
6. Cook the macaroni per the package directions to al dente firmness.
7. Combine all ingredients, except the bread crumbs, in a large mixing bowl. Transfer the macaroni mixture into two buttered 9-inch by 13-inch glass baking dishes.
8. Top with the bread crumbs.
9. Bake for 30 minutes or so.

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