EDISON, NJ - One of the more popular things that I make is a mac ‘n cheese dish with a mix of vegetables, usually with the veggies listed above, though you can use a different mix or omit them altogether. Frankly, adding the vegetables enhances the flavor and presentation. It also adds some health benefits to an otherwise rather unhealthy dish. As an extra bonus, kids usually really like this dish, so it provides a compromise for something kids love with a way to sneak in some veggies.
I start by sautéing some sliced mushrooms with onions and add chopped garlic at the end. After that, I make Mornay sauce which is basically Béchamel sauce with cheese added and melted at the end. It’s easy…promise. It just sounds complicated. Otherwise, you just unthaw some frozen peas, mix everything together and place in a casserole dish with bread crumbs and some parmesan over the top and finish it all in the oven for 20 minutes or so. I garnish with Italian parsley for color. You don’t have to if you don’t wish. The great thing about this dish is the versatility as it works great as both a main course or as a side dish. This is a really rich dish, however, so if you use it as a main course, serving it with a simple salad or something of that sort would probably be best.
For the mushrooms:
1 Bunch of button mushrooms (or a mix)
½ Yellow onion, chopped finely
5 Cloves of garlic, chopped
¼ Cup vegetable oil
Salt and Pepper
For the Béchamel/Mornay Sauce:
6 Tablespoons AP flour
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Cups whole milk
Pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch or two of cayenne pepper
½ Cup of grated gruyere cheese (you can use more if you wish)
½ Cup of grated white cheddar cheese (you can use more if you wish)
Salt to taste
For the Rest and to finish:
1 Box Macaroni, cooked al dente in salted water to specification of the box or to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese (enough to sprinkle over top of casserole dish. Approximately ½ cup)
Freshly ground bread crumbs (or unseasoned store bought bread crumbs. Approximately ½ cup)
1 Bag frozen peas, unthawed
2 Tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley for garnish (use dried parsley if you wish)
· Place peas in colander and run cold water over the top to unthaw. Set aside.
· Heat a pan over high heat for three minutes, add vegetable oil. Oil should smoke lightly. If you feel the smoke is too heavy, remove pan from heat and wait a minute or so and place pan back on heat.
· Add mushrooms to pan and cook, stirring occasionally so avoid burning. If the pan becomes too dry and you can’t move mushrooms around in the pan, add a bit more oil and continue.
· Cook mushrooms until nicely browned and reduce heat to medium low. Add finely chopped onions and cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chopped garlic and cook an additional minute or two (until garlic turns slightly brown).
· Remove mushrooms from pan, season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
· Heat three cups whole milk on medium low until warmed.
· In another pan, place the 6 tablespoons for flour and 6 tablespoons of butter in medium sauce pan and heat over medium. After the butter melts, the flour and butter mixture should resemble wet sand. Cook four or five minutes, stirring often. This process takes the raw flour away, leaving a slightly nutty taste. It should have an off white appearance at this point.
· After that, slowly ladle the warm milk into the butter/flour mixture and stir often until milk is incorporated. You may only need 3 cups of the milk. Use the remaining one cup, slowly if the sauce is too thick (use your best judgment on that). Continue adding milk a ladle at a time, stirring and allowing the mixture to absorb the added milk. Once completely finished with adding to the mixture, reduce heat to low.
· Add a dash or two of freshly grated nutmeg and a dash or two of cayenne pepper.
· Grate the two cheeses and add to the sauce slowly a little bit at a time. Stir frequently until sauce is incorporated and cheese melts. Once melted, taste sauce and adjust salt as necessary.
· Keep sauce on warm (or lowest setting on your range).
· Preheat oven to 350 degrees
· Cook the macaroni in salted water until cooked to al dente per the instructions on the box or to taste. I simply taste the macaroni and take it off when it seems a little less than done. The macaroni will continue to cook in the sauce and in the oven.
· Strain the macaroni and place back in pan. Add the sauce to the pasta a little bit at a time. Stop when the pasta seems to be loose in the sauce or add the entire sauce. Add the mushroom mix and the peas. Stir to combine.
· Place the mixture in a casserole dish. Cover the top with scattered bread crumbs and grated parmesan. Drizzle some olive oil over the top if you wish.
· Place mac ‘n cheese in preheated oven and cook for 20 minutes or until the parmesan cheese is melted and the bread crumbs are browned.
· Remove from oven, sprinkle lightly with parsley. Allow to rest about 10 minutes. Serve while hot.
· You can reheat this in the oven on 325 for leftovers or if you aren’t serving right away.
Craig Thiebaud is a Diplomat of Classic Culinary Arts at the International Culinary Center (formerly The French Culinary Institute) located in SOHO in New York City. After extensive training in the Art of French cooking and professional food preparation in general, he brings his knowledge of food and passion for cooking to us by sharing culinary techniques and creating recipes that mainly use local, seasonal ingredients and can be easily recreated in the home kitchen. Good, wholesome meals for the family can be created quickly with planning, using the best techniques with the best ingredients that are both affordable and available. Let's get back into the kitchen together!