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Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese

Melt The Art of Macaroni and Cheese Cookbook Cover_IMG_6574

When Garrett McCord and Stephanie Stiavetti first started working on their cookbook, “Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese,” I leapt at the opportunity to test some of their recipes knowing this would be a fun kitchen exercise that would also double as a bowl of creamy decadence my cheese-loving husband could sink his fork into.  So, we set out to build a cheese sauce for that evening’s mac and cheese making notes throughout the preparation and tasting notes after dinner. 

Fast forward many months later to Seattle and the International Food Blogger Conference where Garrett held the cookbook in his hands as a small group of us chatted out in the hall about writing and skipped one of the blogging sessions. As I flipped through the book, I couldn’t wait for my own copy to arrive as I had already begun conspiring about a mac and cheese filled fall menu… in between the properly green and fiberful foods that would offset this foray into sheer indulgence. When the brown paper package arrived from Helen at Little & Brown, I had to stop myself from tearing it open, such was my enthusiasm for a book that would be henceforth dubbed in our house as the book of consolation also known as a slippery slope. It’s a bit of a game we have contrived where every bad statement turns into an uplifting answer. It goes like this:

“What, you had a bad day? Let me make you a bowl of Raclette with Farfalle, Cornichons and Sauteed Onions.” (p.93)

“I’m so sorry I forgot your birthday. How can I make it up to you?” The look exchanged says, “Nicasio Square and Spinach-Pasta Mini-Cocottes.” (p. 131)

“Someone stole the car? Oh, no. I know what will make you feel better. Yodeling Goat with Golden Beets and Orecchiete.” (p. 40)

“You vacuumed the whole house, did three loads of laundry and scrubbed down the bathroom on a Tuesday night. You deserve a bowl of “Humboldt Fog with Grilled Peaches and Orzo.” (p. 29)

Do you see how handy this book might be? It gives me the leverage that Tyrion could never quite achieve over Cersei in “Game of Thrones.” It also might just win me wife of the year as if there is a sash or medal waiting in the wings because I know my hubby’s achilles heel and cheese, you are it. It gives me a secret weapon for guests who don’t believe in the power of a bowl of mac and cheese to loosen the tongue.

For too long, macaroni and cheese has been synonymous with a blue box. Stiavetti and McCord help the reader make the shift. As Michael Ruhlman deftly cites in the foreword, “This cheap dinner in a box epitomizes the travesty of America’s processed-food industry and the damage it has wrought on the people who rely on it and on our land. This book is a personal reminder to me to appreciate real food.” The cookbook talks about so many nuances of cheese-making and cheese culture in the United States. I particularly enjoyed the profile of one of my favorite Northern California food companies, Redwood Hill Farm.

Steph Stiavetti Garrett McCord_IMG_6523

This book has been well named because it really does take into account the artistry of the cheese makers as well as pushing the limits of what constitutes a mac and cheese.  You can tell quickly that these two know the names of their cheesemongers and give the kind of respect to artisan cheese usually reserved for the cheese board into the heavy bottomed pot of al dente pasta. At the Oakland launch party of the cookbook this past weekend, we tried the Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel and Rotini salad (p 32) and found this pairing of macaroni and cheese light and refreshing. On the opposite end of the spectrum with bold, bright flavors, I spooned into the Lincolnshire Poacher with Cotija, Chorizo and Penne (p 114). After such dramatically different mac and cheese expressions, we couldn’t wait to sink our teeth into more mac and cheese. The problem consisted of where to start… So we bought Cabot Clothbound Cheddar at the Sacred Wheel Cheese Shop in Oakland in case we wanted to start out with what I’m lovingly calling Guacamole Mac and Cheese (Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar with Avocado, Lime and Shell Pasta) and picked up several hunks of Lamb Chopper cheese in case we decided upon making the Grand Ewe with Golden Raisins, Pine Nuts and Macaroni. Decisions, decisions.

Guacamole Mac and Cheese_Melt Cookbook_IMG_6568

In the end, it might have been how the avocados almost sighed beneath my gentle squeeze that tipped the scale in favor of the Cheddar with Avocado and Lime Mac and Cheese. Spooned into small bowls, our late afternoon lunch reminded us of Sunday as the day to toss your cares aside. It tasted like a revelation with the creaminess and flavor of the avocado still detectable even as the tangy cheese shone through. I’d say we made a good choice. On Halloween, we are planning to make the Grand Ewe with Golden Raisins and after what we have tasted this far, I think the guests at our small fete will be infinitely happier with cheese than sweets. Even my sweet tooth can’t complain.

Categories
Recipes

Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar with Avocado, Lime and Shell Pasta (aka Guacamole Mac and Cheese)

Beecher's Cheddar Mac and Cheese | Melt Cookbook

Some people take a server at her word when she chirrups, “save room for dessert!” My husband is not one of those people. His lack of a sweet tooth when paired with my overly enthusiastic one sets us up for an end of meal conundrum that more often than not entails a response of “check, please.” That is, unless we visit a restaurant that equates end of meal indulgence with a cheese plate. Then all bets are off.  I tend to coo over the pairings that come with the cheese- the membrillo or fig cake, the scattering of nuts or wedge of honeycomb all thoughtfully curated to combine in a perfect bite that silences us as we arrive in a state of blissed out cheesy Xanadu.
Cheddar Avocado Mac and Cheese | Melt Cookbook

BEECHER’S FLAGSHIP CHEDDAR WITH AVOCADO, LIME AND SHELL PASTA 

Reprinted with permission from “Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese” by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord

A few substitutions were made in cooking this recipe. We swapped in gluten-free rotini instead of the shell pasta and used all 12 oz. of the pasta in the Bio-Natur bag, though Jovial noodles are usually the box of pasta you might find in our pantry. And if you’ve never eaten gluten-free noodles before, be advised they are not really palatable as leftovers, so plan ahead and invite some friends to partake of a freshly made pot of this mac and cheese. For the flour, I used King Arthur Gluten-Free AP flour to build the sauce. Also, and just because a bit ago I picked up some finger limes at IFBC, we cut them in half and squeezed out the lime arils, garnishing the pasta with that final pert burst of citrusy flavor instead of the lime juice called for in the recipe. The finger limes give an intriguing pop of flavor and texture to a dish already complex and completely decadent.

SERVES 4-6

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • zest of 1 lime
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 green onions, green parts only, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 ripe avocados, pits and skin removed, divided
  • 10 ounces concighlie or other medium shell pasta
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 ounces Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar, shredded
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • lime wedges for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Remove the stem from the jalapeno and cut the jalapeno in half. Remove the ribs and seeds- or keep them, depending on how much heat you like. Toss the jalapeno into the bowl of a food processor with the lime zest and lime juice. Add green onions, garlic and flesh of 2 of the avocados. Blitz together into a very smooth paste.
  2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and set aside.
  3. To prepare the mornay sauce, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the milk starts to steam and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan, turn off the heat. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium flame. Add the flour and stir with a flat-edge wooden paddle just until the roux begins to take on a light brown color, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk and stir constantly until the sauce thickens enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon- a finger drawn along the back of the spoon should leave a clear swath, Remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper. Add cheese to sauce, stirring until completely melted. Add the avocado-onion paste and whisk together until uniform and creamy. The key word here, if you haven’t guessed is smooth. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Add the pasta and cilantro to the sauce and stir together. Dice the last avocado and toss together with the mac and cheese. Serve immediately with a splash of lime juice.

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