Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Very French Mac and Cheese


For someone who was always hungry, 
I never paused between mouthfuls of steamed shrimp and wedges of Indian River oranges 
long enough to consider the culinary heritage of the place of my youth. 
Florida ‘space coast’ cuisine, American Food Roots 

A little up time, a flurry of writing, working, planning, punctuated by a slow slide into calmness, hibernating under blankets, snuggling into a soft nest of pillows. The rain has been replaced by sunshine, wavering between watery, tepid rays and bright, invigorating light. Springlike days have replaced the shimmering pewter skies and dismal ambiance. I saw my first piece published on American Food Roots, a site dedicated to our American culinary heritage. Delighted was I to become a part of such an informative, fascinating site and an informed, talented community. Thrilled at the chance to collaborate with such brilliant, passionate women as Domenica Marchetti, Bonny Wolf, Carol Guensburg and Michele Kayal.

Riding high on this writing adventure, I plan and organize my trip to San Francisco, my Experts Are In session with my pal Ilva Beretta. I have my press pass in hand for this weekend’s Salon du Chocolate Nantes edition, the first of its kind in our town, very exciting! and a date to meet my favorite chocolatier. The next From Plate to Page workshop in beautiful Ireland approaches rapidly. Plans, ideas and projects swirl around my head and begin to take shape; more stories and articles get typed, edited and mailed. Maybe it is the weather, the light and warmth lifting the spirits and energizing the creativity. Maybe it is the affirmation of being published, the anticipation of more that inspires.

 Hunkered down and cozy.

Or a stroll around Nantes when the sun comes out.

And we are still hunkered down for the winter.

For a breath of summertime and a taste of fresh seafood and citrus, please visit American Food Roots and read my piece on the food of My Florida. You’ll find my recipe for smooth, cool Cream Puffs with Orange Pastry Cream and tangy Orange Glaze with photos by Ilva Beretta.

My own photo of my luscious orange cream puffs.

What does one prepare when the craving for something homey and comforting hits yet no one desires to make that dash to the store? (I sit at my desk and type, he works on his own project, banging out pages upon pages in between one phone call and the next. It becomes a Push-Me-Pull-You situation when shopping is discussed.) One rifles through the cupboards, one stares at all the packages of grated comté and emmenthal that have somehow, inexplicably, accumulated in the refrigerator and one has that aha moment of Macaroni and Cheese. And not just any macaroni and cheese, but something oh-so very French. Lots of French cheese and elbow macaroni smothered in luscious, healing, soothing béchamel. The only foreign touches are a fine yet healthy grating of Parmesan and a generous dusting of panko for crunch. Comfort food at its best in any culture.


Béchamel Sauce:
3 ½ Tbs (50 g) unsalted butter
3 ½ Tbs (45 g) flour 3 cups (about 750 ml) whole milk
½ large or 1 medium onion, chopped
Fresh thyme leaves, chopped, or dried thyme
1 small bay leaf
½ to 1 tsp chipotle chilli powder or cayenne pepper
Dash ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Mac & Cheese:
Béchamel Sauce
2 – 4 cups grated hard cheeses (Comté, Emmenthal, gruyere, Swiss)
½ cup or so freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup or so panko or other breadcrumbs
1 lbs (500 g) dried elbow macaroni or similar

Butter a large, deep baking dish; mine is approximately 12 x 7 x 2 ½ -inches and pyrex.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and place the cooked macaroni in a large, heatproof mixing bowl.

Prepare the Béchamel:

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the chopped onion and cook for several minutes until soft and translucent. Add the flour all at once and stir vigorously to blend; cook for a minute or two. Add the milk a little at a time, whisking after each addition until the mixture thickens and is smooth. Continue whisking in the milk a little at a time until it has all been poured into the saucepan. Whisk in a pinch of thyme, the bay leaf, the chipotle chilli powder and a pinch of nutmeg. Salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until thick, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat; prepare the macaroni and cheese while the béchamel is still hot.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Pour the hot béchamel over the cooked paste and stir until all of the pasta is coated with the sauce. Toss in all of the grated cheese except for the Parmesan, keeping about ½ cup of the mixed cheeses aside for the top of the casserole. Taste and adjust seasons according to taste. Pour into the buttered baking dish and spread evenly. Top with the rest of the grated cheeses, the grated Parmesan and ending with the panko, all evenly distributed up to the edges.

Bake in the preheated oven until bubbling and the top is a golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes, keeping an eye on the surface of the mac & cheese towards the end. Timing depends upon the oven, the size of the baking dish and how browned you like the crust.

Serve hot and gooey with a bright, tart mixed salad and a bottle of light red white.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wow, you are busy! I'm so happy for you...

This mac and cheese looks and sounds ever so good! This combination of flavors is just fabulous. Sometimes, when I'm making this dish, I trade English Cheddar for Appenzeller cheese and use speck instead of bacon...



Paula @ Vintage Kitchen said...

It´s nice to read you´re enjoying all the good things going on in your life Jamie! A wonderful mac n cheese also. I like to add some truffle oil sometimes.

Amanda said...

Goodness, you have been busy! There's nothing quite so comforting as Mac'n'Cheese and your version is very tempting. It will have to wait though - we are sweltering here in South Australia and expect to be doing so for a few days yet. Sigh. I'm quite looking forward to feeling a chill in the air that doesn't come from an air-con in a store (we don't have it at home, so I seek my cool where I can).

Liz Berg said...

Oooh, with a couple Fridays left in Lent, I will have to try some gooey homemade mac and cheese. My kiddos still seem to prefer the blue box :/ Maybe some thyme, French cheeses and a touch of heat will change their minds. I'll be happy in any case :) Congrats on all the good things happening in your life!!! xo

Elizabeth said...

My favourite! J'adore macaroni and cheese!! But I cannot see those words without immediately picturing our earnest guide at Monticello who told us about Thomas Jefferson returning from Europe with "such exotic things as mack-ah-ROW-neee and cheeeeeze"

I really love the way your macaroni and cheese recipe hardly differs from what my mom made when I was growing up. The only differences are that she never strayed from using any cheese but medium old cheddar. And of course, in those spice and herb free days, we hadn't even heard of cayenne and the thyme was only for fancy gourmet adult dinners prepared with the help of "The Dinner Party Cookbook".

Denise said...

Busy! Busy! Busy! You always find time to cook. Love this very French mac and cheese!

Pola M said...

Seriously delicious! And greatly comforting!

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

You said it - comfort food at its best in any culture and indeed it is. Love the spot of heat you included and panko crumbs give just the amount of crunch. Nothing beats a good mac and cheese.

Sounds like you've been very busy and congratulations on the American Food Roots publication. Hope you have a lovely weekend and that the sun shines upon you.

Barb | Creative Culinary said...

You have totally ruined my lame breakfast of Cheerios, blueberries and milk. I want this now!

So many great things happening for well deserved!

bunkycooks said...

It's very exciting that all of your hard work is paying off. Yay! BTW, this mac and cheese looks fabulous and totally decadent. It truly is perfect comfort food.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

What a hectic life you're living and it's all good. I couldn't be happier for anyone. You're such a talented woman. I saw the article on Food Roots - I loved it. I felt like I was back in Florida.

Jamie said...

Thank to all of you for your wonderful and very appreciated support. And thanks Maureen, Barbara all of you who shared and left comments on my AFR story. It means so very much to me!

Rachel @ Bakerita said...

Mmmm, this sounds amazing! I'm a mac and cheese fiend, and your version sounds absolutely heavenly. Pinned!

Rosie @ Blueberry Kitchen said...

Oh this looks and sounds so good! I love your pasta bowl too!

Terra said...

Oh goodness, I am totally making this gorgeous recipe!!! Hubby and I have made a few different homemade mac n'cheese recipes. We love homemade mac n'cheese, there is something wonderful about the dish, and a perfect comfort food! Beautiful, Hugs, Terra

Ivy said...

Love this version of Mac and cheese. Never thought of adding onion to the bechamel cream. Shall try it soon.

Deeba PAB said...

It feels like coming home to comfort food sistah...that's why I love being here. Miss you and so happy that things are going so well. Much love to you!! {Big hug to Marty too}

Kate | Food Babbles said...

It sounds like you've been very busy but it sounds like good things are happening. Oh and Plate to Pixel, I would LOVE to go to that. What a wonderful experience I imagine. This mac and cheese looks decadent. I love macaroni and cheese! Lovely!

Carolyn Jung said...

I'd eat mac and cheese with any cultural origin. LOL

Lora said...

Mac-n-Cheese is über comfort food not matter what country. I love this.

domenicacooks said...

Well, I'm finally taking a few minutes to catch up on blog reading and what do I find? This lovely post. We are so grateful to you for your fantastic piece on Florida ~ and we hope there will be more! It's a pleasure to showcase your work, my friend. I'm so sorry I'll miss you in San Francisco. Plate to Page in Ireland sounds like a dream. Thrilled for all the great stuff going on in your busy life. xo

Meeta K. Wolff said...

So good to hear about all the upcoming events and occasions in your life. I loved he American Food Root article - happy for you my Saucy sister. Can i be honest? i never liked mac n cheese - never! I prefer a nice pasta with gorgonzola or even the carbonarra.

Jamie said...

@Meeta - yum I would so make this Mac & Cheese with gorgonzola or a bleu. Perfect! And THEN you would love it!

Kiran @ said...

You've been so busy, but with great things in tow!

Perfect comfort food!


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