I hate wasting food. A lot. I think sometimes Travis is appalled by my attempts to salvage food in our house when, ahem, perhaps a bit too much time has gone by. But groceries are so expensive in DC, I just can't stand not using them.
For various reasons (holiday entertaining; my own weakness at fancy cheese counters), we had several partial blocks of really good cheese left in our fridge that I knew weren't going to get eaten. So when it was time to cook something for an afternoon Christmas get-together, I decided that I would try to make mac & cheese using the items I already had in my house, namely the aforementioned cheese.
The bulk of the cheese we had was brie and fontina, neither of which is typically used in baked macaroni and cheese. They are both mild and on the sweet end of the cheese spectrum (at least, the generic, unaged versions), whereas most mac & cheese recipes call for stronger, sharper cheeses (e.g., cheddar, Monterey Jack, Parmigiano-Reggiano). My mom always told me that a really good cheese will make your toes curl, but I think that only applies to sharp cheeses. A delicious brie might make your heart flutter, but it won't curl your toes. So I knew I would need to dress the cheeses up with a little something extra. Like my favorite white wine and some fresh rosemary.
Be aware that even though I dressed it up with rosemary and wine, this is a mild dish that is not super rich. I have a recipe for a very decadent mac & cheese that calls for no less than 1 quart of whole milk or cream and 6 tablespoons of butter - this is not that mac & cheese. But it is a really delicious recipe if you are looking for a lighter flavored, but still comforting macaroni.
I brought the mac & cheese as a side dish for a hearty chili dinner with some of Travis's friends from grad school, which the host, Jenny, affectionately refers to as the "Michigan Family." (Her kids are in fact the first children to ever call me an "auntie"!) The Michigan Family recently got a new addition, baby Logan (he's the redheaded cutie with Angelina Jolie lips below), so we had lots to celebrate!
Among other things to celebrate at the close of this year was the end of Jenny's countless surgeries as a result of a double mastectomy and subsequent reconstruction. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor and has the most amazing attitude you can imagine. At one point over dinner, she recounted the Single Girls' Apple Pie, and jokingly said "What does it take to get a blog entry about my tragedy?!" I'm working on something good, girlfriend.
And because the growing brood of kiddos really adds to the flavor of a Michigan Family gathering, I couldn't resist sharing a few photos. This is the face of a kid who is not interested in mac & cheese until he has downed some chocolate.
This is also the face of a kid who is not interested in mac & cheese. Because he has no teeth. Look at that little mouth - it doesn't get any cuter.
This one's a future blogger. She had some thoughts on my content.
And this one schooled me in grammar.
I've called this dish "cupboard" mac & cheese to encourage you to make use of whatever pasta/herbs/cheeses and half bottles of wine you've got around your house. I promise, you can't screw up noodles baked in melty cheese and good wine.
Cupboard Mac & Cheese
Adapted from the kitchn recipe for Brie-Style Mac and Cheese
Serves 8-10 as a side
- 12 oz. pasta of your choice (suggested: rotini, fusilli, or gemelli)
- 1 large or 2 small slices whole wheat sandwich bread
- 1/3 cup walnuts and/or pecans (if you want to skip the homemade breadcrumbs, swap in 1/2 cup bread crumbs for the sandwich bread, nuts and 1 tbs. butter)
- 2 tbs. butter, divided (1 tbs./1 tbs.)
- 1 tbs. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tbs. chopped rosemary (fresh if you have it - we have a very overgrown rosemary bush in our yard)
- 1/2 cup of your favorite white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
- 2 tbs. whole wheat flour
- 1 cup milk (I used skim)
- 4 cups of shredded cheese (I used roughly 1 cup bleu goat cheese, 3/4 cups cheddar, 1-1/2 cups brie, 1-1/4 cups fontina)
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Tear wheat bread into large chunks and place in a food processor; pulse several times until mostly crumbly. Add nuts and continue to process until ground into crumbs. Melt 1 tbs. of butter in a large skillet. Toss crumbs into skillet and toast for 5-7 minutes, stirring often. Or, use pre-made breadcrumbs as noted above.
Cook pasta according to directions for al dente consistency. Usually 8-10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat up olive oil and 1 tbs. butter in a large pot. (If you have an oven-safe pot, use it, so that you can go directly from stovetop to oven.) Saute chopped garlic and rosemary in the hot butter/oil for 2-3 minutes at medium heat. Reduce heat and slowly add wine (turn on your fan, because it will smoke a little). Let the wine heat up and then add flour. Turn heat back up to medium and stir until the mixture thickens. Add milk and stir for a few more minutes. Add cheese, salt and pepper; stir until melted. Add cooked pasta and stir.
Top with toasted breadcrumb mix. Bake for 30-35 minutes.