Recipe 23: Mark Bittman’s Nutty Macaroni and Blue CheesePosted: May 30, 2012
Did you miss me, Weekly Mackers? No, don’t speak: I know you did, and you can stop fretting because I have returned. I spent the long Memorial Day weekend camping with Loverman, our Napoleonic little dog, and friends. I had fun, but I am relieved to be home with hot showers, central air, a soft bed, and most of all respectful neighbors. Here’s a helpful hint on camping etiquette: It is fine to sing around the campfire for entertainment, and even to be occasionally boisterous past dark. Drunkenly caterwauling off-key songs with guitar accompaniment is not. To be fair, some members of our group were less-than-sober at times – however, when you are trying to learn the words to Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” by screaming louder than you have been (yes, screaming), and it’s close to midnight, and the entire rest of the campgrounds are quiet, I don’t care if you are intoxicated or stone-cold sober: You’re a jerk.
I’ve become a crabby old lady before my time. I’ve made peace with that.
Anyway, even before I left, I have been wanting to make today’s mac. I found this recipe for Mark Bittman’s macaroni and cheese, which included several different variations from the basic recipe. I could have made just the basic version, but what’s the fun in that? I decided to make this more umami variation. The flavors may be more suited for autumn – I love the combination of blue cheese and walnuts with autumn fruits like pears or apples – but I was craving a blue mac. I’ve slightly re-jiggered the wording of some of the ingredients and directions to make it clearer from the original instructions, but this is all Mark Bittman, not me. Just to give credit where it’s due.
Nutty Macaroni and Blue Cheese (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)
- 2 1/2 cups milk, low-fat is fine (good, because I only had skim)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta (I used corn elbows)
- 4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
- 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (or flour substitute)
- 1 cup grated cheese, like a mild cheddar (I used a sharp cheddar because that’s what I had)
- 1 cup blue cheese
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup or more bread crumbs, preferably fresh
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
2. Cook the milk with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 minutes later, turn off the heat and let stand.
3. Cook the pasta to the point where it is almost done but you would still think it needed another minute or two to become tender. Drain it, rinse it quickly to stop the cooking, and put it in a large bowl.
4. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter; when it is foamy, add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture browns, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves from the milk and add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the hot flour mixture, stirring with a wire whisk all the while. As soon as the mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk and continue to do so until all the milk is used up and the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the cheddar and stir.
5. Pour the sauce over the noodles, toss in the blue cheese and walnuts, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to grease a 9 x 13-inch or similar-size baking pan (or use non-stick spray, as I did) and turn the pasta mixture into it. Top liberally with bread crumbs and bake until bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, about 15 minutes. Serve piping hot. (But, you know, don’t burn your mouth or anything)
This was good, but not great, but I think I know why: The walnuts. While they certainly pair well with blue cheese in and of themselves, neither Loverman nor I really cared for them in our mac. I think maybe chopping them even smaller might do the trick or even mincing them super finely and using that instead of the bread crumbs. Or heck, leave them out entirely; I don’t think it would really be lacking anything. Also, blue cheese fiend that I am, I actually felt even more of the blue flavor would have been nice. All this having been said, it was by no means a bad recipe, and I plan on trying some more variations on the recipe in the future.
In other news, is there anything you’d like to get out of this blog or my Facebook page that you aren’t getting? Let me know! I aim to please my adoring public.
Edit to Add: After having the leftovers of this mac a few times, I can tell you a few things that aren’t working. The walnuts are even worse when warming up leftovers: The flavor seemed to infiltrate more than it had when it was fresh. Also, the type of blue cheese I used didn’t seem to melt as much as I would have liked – I did buy a wedge and crumbled it up rather than buying crumbles, so maybe that has something to do with it? But yeah; this does not reheat well, so I’d change the rating to 2/5.