Monday, April 16, 2012

Spicy Smoked Mac & Cheese


This evening I decided it was time to get a little funky in the kitchen. Peter has been requesting mac & cheese for the past month, and although I enjoy classics, I just couldn’t do the normal mac & cheese tonight... I JUST COULDN'T! I needed to be weird with it. Not too weird, like using ice cream to make the béchamel base or anything like that, but weird enough that I became scared when mixing the ingredients together and then did that happy food dance when I tasted the results. (You know that happy food dance? It's usually done by females. Sometimes you see it done in restaurants upon first bite, sometimes at your dinner table, or like me, in the kitchen with a wooden spoon in one hand. It's like a happy squirm... alas, I digress.)

Some of you will probably read the ingredients for tonight's mac & cheese and think, "What is so weird or scary about that??", but I was just having one of those timid nights, I guess.

Behold, my smoky and spicy goat and gouda mac & cheese with spinach (that’s quite a mouthful, and how appropriate! This dish is quite a mouthful, indeed!)

I warn you- these flavor combos are kind of addicting. You may find yourself wanting a bowl of this spicy, creamy, goodness at weird hours. My recommendation?  Just do it, shhhhhh... tiptoeing optional.


Spicy Smoked Mac & Cheese
(Serves 6-8)
  • 6 oz baby spinach
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T bacon fat or olive oil
  • 4 T butter + 1 T melted
  • ¼ c. flour
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 1 c. skim milk
  • 4 oz goat cheese, crumbled (approximately ½ c.)
  • 5 oz smoked gouda, shredded (approximately 2 c.)
  • 5 oz. cheddar, shredded (approximately 2 c.)
  • 2 ½ tsp chili sauce or 1 ½ tsp chili paste
  • 1 lb pipe rigate (you can use medium shells or macaroni but I highly recommend pipe rigate if you can find them. Whole Foods has them but my other grocery stores do not :( I should start a petition...)
  • 1 c. homemade sourdough breadcrumbs (see below)
  • 2 T finely chopped parsley
  • salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 375° F and butter a 3.5 quart casserole dish or Dutch oven.
Chop spinach in a processor until finely chopped (pulsing will give you better control by not turning it to mush), set aside.

Slice the light green and white of the leek in half, length-wise. Rinse the leek's layers well to remove all grit.  Now, slice the leek halves width-wise.

Heat the bacon fat in a large sauté pan on medium-low heat.  Bacon fat adds some serious depth to the flavor combos going on here (it's kind of like the "secret" ingredient), but not all of you will have bacon fat just lyin' around.  Olive oil would be fine, as well.  But, next time you make this pizza or cook some bacon for breakfast, consider saving the drippings :)  It's not the healthiest thing but since when is mac & cheese healthy, either?  I say go all out when going all out is necessary.

Add the leek and garlic and sauté until the leek is soft, being careful not to brown the garlic, about 4 minutes.
Raise the heat to medium and add the spinach. Cook until spinach is fully wilted and excess moisture has evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. 
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scoop into bowl and set aside (scrape out the pan as best you can, so as not to interfere with the béchamel sauce that we'll make next).

On medium heat, in the same sauté pan, make a roux by melting the 4 T butter then adding the flour, whisking together until combined and lightly bubbling.

Add the milks gradually, whisking until smooth between each addition, creating a béchamel sauce.
Don't panic when it looks like this!Because magically it will turn to this...
And then this!
Once the lumps are gone, allow to bubble, lightly, no hard boiling. The béchamel sauce will thicken shortly after, about 1-2 minutes, whisking lightly, constantly.

Lower the heat to medium-low and add the cheeses gradually, allowing each batch to melt in between each cheese, creating a mornay sauce. (If some of the gouda doesn’t melt completely, that is fine. It will melt in the oven.)

Whisk in the chili paste. 

Add the spinach and leek mixture and combine well. Season with more salt and pepper.

Simmer on low for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions- I prefer bringing water to a boil then salting the water with ½ T salt per quart of water before adding the pasta. Cook the pasta for the lowest recommended time, as the pasta will continue to cook when the mac & cheese bakes in the oven.

Add the pasta shells to your souped-up mornay. Combine well and pour into prepared baking dish.

Tear pieces of just enough day-old sourdough bread to make 1 cup of crumbs.  In a food processor, process the bread into nice flaky crumbs. Pour into a small bowl. 

Melt 1 T butter and mix into the breadcrumbs, along with the parsley.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the mac and cheese and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.

DIG IN!