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 The rain has been replaced by sunshine, wavering between watery, tepid rays and bright, invigorating light.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.
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.
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.
VERY FRENCH MACARONI & CHEESE
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:
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.