If one could acquire a degree in the art of making macaroni and cheese (yes, that's right, I said art), one would need to purchase and devour (if you'll pardon the pun) the new book by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. In this valuable tome, no stone is left unturned when it comes to learning about this American favorite, from the pasta base, the process of making the cheese, the wide varieties, those best suited for combining with pasta, helpful wine pairings, and some of the most unique mac and cheese recipes that I have ever encountered along with mouthwatering photographs of these novel dishes. Consider if you will, Roquefort Macaroni with Beets, Shallots, and Poppy Seeds; Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel, and Rotini; Soba Noodles with Parmesan and Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts, to name a few.
It is pretty to look at, informative, and unique. At first glance, it is overwhelming. Many of the pastas and cheeses (a good many of them only regionally available) are a bit obscure and not easily obtained by the average cook. Even in a city such as mine with a thriving Italian neighborhood and numerous Italian specialty markets, I was unable to find some of the pastas. A good many cheeses are unfamiliar as well, although a list of suggested substitutions appears at the end of each recipe, but even with various options I often came up empty. Many of the combinations are a bit odd, the addition of various fruits in pasta salads spring immediately to mind, as does a baked mac and cheese dish topped with raspberry jam. But it is a book such as this one that encourages the experimentation that allows us to reap the greatest rewards in our culinary endeavors. Fruit in pasta salad is good! It lightens, refreshes, and provides a hint of sweetness that brightens the dish.
The recipes are written in a form that is conversational. Something new can be learned in reading each one. If you thought that you knew macaroni and cheese, think again. But the value of a book such as this one is in its simplicity. Sandwiched in between some of the wilder concoctions are recipes for Tuna Noodle Casserole, a velvety Mornay Sauce that is spot on, a hearty Chicken Sausage Skillet casserole, a post-Thankgiving charmer called Turkey and Robusto Mac and Cheeselets (individual pasta tarts baked in a muffin tin), and a soul soothing Gruyere and Emmentaler Macaroni with Ham and Cubed Sourdough. The recipe for Buffalo Chicken Macaroni with Buttermilk Bleu Cheese Sauce had my mouth watering; I'll be serving this for Super Bowl.
The appendices at the end of the book are ample and informative. Detailed information on both pasta and cheese will answer almost any question that may arise during reading. While I tried to be as authentic as possible when testing the recipes, it was good to know that when I couldn’t find Gemelli that fusili would do. Still have a question? A website has been created to accompany the book. You can find it at: http://meltmacaroni.com
Meanwhile, give this simple, but intensely flavorful pasta dish a try. Thumbs up all around from my camp. Don't let the rather lengthy directions deter you from making it. I have divided it by steps. It is really quite easy to do.
Petit Basque with Roasted Garlic, Shallots,
To roast garlic:
2 whole heads garlic
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Peel off most of the outer paper (skin) on garlic. Using a sharp knife, trim 1/4" off of the top of the bulb. Place garlic in a small ramekin and drizzle with olive oil. Cover loosely with foil and roast for 1 hour until soft; cool. Squeeze it out of its skin and mash with a fork.
NOTE: I did this the day ahead of use and stored it in the refrigerator, with great results. Allow it to come to room temperature before making the dish.
To make shallots:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced shallots (1 large bulb)
In a small saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add shallots; cook until browned, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; set aside.
8 oz. Gemelli (or other spiral pasta)
Cook according to package directions. Drain. Set aside.
To make Mornay Sauce and assemble pasta:
1-1/2 cups whole milk
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
Freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces Petit Basque cheese, shredded
1 Tablespoon chopped, fresh chives
Heat milk in small saucepan over medium heat. When milk steams and bubbles form around the edge, turn off heat.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over a medium flame. Add flour, stirring with a flat wooden paddle until lightly brown, 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the warmed milk. Cook until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Stir in mashed garlic. Add shallots and their cooking oil. Stir well. Remove from heat. Stir in salt and pepper. Add cheese, stir until melted. Fold in pasta. Stir in chives. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with additional chives. Serve immediately.
Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book, prior to its publication, from NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.
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