Comfort Food File:
Mac 'n' Cheese Makeovers
by Kate Heyhoe
I admit it: I'm a macaroni and cheese junkie. Or maybe I should say, a "pasta and cheese" addict, a lover of lasagna with mozzarella and ricotta, ziti with gorgonzola, and old-fashioned macaroni with aged sharp cheddar cheese.
Pasta-and-cheese dishes may arguably be the western world's leaders in warm winter, comfort food, at least among countries with dairy products. In some cases the cheese may be supplanted by another dairy product, as in Beef Stroganoff with wide egg noodles and tangy sour cream sauce. Or penne pasta with a vodka-laced cream sauce. But in all cases, it's the rich, smooth creaminess that creates the comfort.
Cookbooks and chefs are putting new spins on the old mac-n-cheese combos. If you haven't played around with them yet, today's versatile and artisanal cheeses from all over the globe wake up the traditional creamy-cheese sauce. Toss in a chunk of soft, fresh California goat cheese for extra tang, or grate in some Wisconsin smoked cheddar for a robust earthiness. For an ultra-velvety taste and texture, melt a few dollops of Italian mascarpone in the sauce—and swoon in the comfort of every bite.
To upgrade your favorite mac 'n' cheese recipe, explore your local cheese purveyer's case of artisanal and imported cheeses, and don't be afraid to experiment. In California alone, small producers are turning cow's milk into extraordinary cheeses like Winchester Farms' Farmstead Gouda, Point Reyes' Blue, Andante Dairy's Figaro, and Bravo Farms' Raw Milk Cheddar.
Even traditional cheeses can add a surprising twist to the old mac 'n' cheese recipe. For instance, try some of these ultra-flavorful cheeses, either alone or in combination:
Chevre—Artisanal cheesemakers are coming up with some astonishing varieties that range from mild and grassy to sharp and tangy.
Dry Jack—aged Monterey Jack, hard and best for grating or as a Parmesan substitute.
Goat Gouda—semi-hard with a unique sharpness; pairs well with a bit of caraway seeds in the sauce.
Mascarpone—Italian double or triple cream cheese, adds more richness than heavy cream with a slight tang.
Monterey Jack—always a good creamy melter; comes in traditional or flavored with chiles, garlic or spices.
Provolone—A semi-firm Italian cheese known for its sharpness.
Roth Kase—a Swiss-style Gruyere cheese.
Teleme—A Spanish semi-soft cheese, melts well; mild and tangy, like Monterey Jack.
I could eat a pasta and cheese dish every week and never tire of it, morning, noon or night. Like stews and meatloaf, the dishes below are homey foods, appealing in their lack of fussiness and welcome by family and friends alike. Make them for casual Monday night football meals, or as elegant Saturday night specials. Then add a simple green salad or sliced tomatoes, sit back and get cozy.
Mac 'n' Cheese Makeovers:
Kate's Global Kitchen for October, 2001:
10/06/01 Black Magic Month: Halloween Count-Down
10/13/01 Tropical Fruits: Beauty That's More Than Skin Deep
10/20/01 Monkeying with Menudo Mix
10/27/01 Comfort Food File: Mac 'n' Cheese Makeovers
Copyright © 2001, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created October 2001