Crumb: Hygge Mac & Cheese
It’s been a quiet few weeks for Courses & Crumbs but a busy few weeks for me personally as I figure out the next few months of my life are going to entail. Boston is starting to feel like home again and I’m feeling lucky to have seen so many of my family and friends. Christmas will be fun also and this year we’ll get to celebrate with both my family and Greg’s in New York. This has also been a month for me of somber thoughts but also of trying to find comfort and joy in life and in food.
First, the somber part: I suspect this will be a recurring theme for anyone interested in food issues over the course of the next few years. The incoming administration has given no indication that they will invest any time, thought or political capital into food issues, a step back from the Obamas who have at least tried to improve school nutrition and access to healthy foods, despite a significant amount of political blowback. Food issues touch every executive department, but are most prominent in the departments of Agriculture (Ag), Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Assuming they are confirmed, the nominees for those positions include a sexist fast food CEO, a doctor who belongs to an association that disavows mandatory vaccines, and a man who has actively campaigned against federal efforts to regulate factory farms. The future Secretary of Ag has yet to be named, but my guess would be that we aren’t going to get someone who’s primary interest is in preserving and improving the American food system. It is worth noting, however, that one woman mentioned has a track record of trying to improve the nutritional content of school lunches. It will be interesting. (And I mean interesting in the way that my mother taught me in third grade that if I didn’t have anything nice to say about another boy in my class for the holiday mailbox project, then I should say that I found him interesting. I do not mean interesting in the way in which I would if you were to tell me you’d figured out how to apperate, for example.)
Thankfully, the on-the-ground momentum towards cultivating a better food system appears to be continuing in earnest and there are a lot of smart, motivated people from all walks of life trying to make this better and more sustainable. Sustainable is a trendy word right now, but I do think it captures what our food system needs to be and have: the ability to produce healthy, nutritious foods on healthy lands in perpetuity and the ability to get those foods at a reasonable cost to ALL people. No one – no one – should ever be hungry today. An estimated 30-40% of our food in the United States is wasted and 13.1 million children in the United States live in food insecure households. This is a statistic that I come back to again and again in my writing and in my work because not only is it a tragedy, but it should be an outrage – I should not be able to write that sentence and have it be true. It makes me physically enraged and I am actively looking for ways to mitigate that inequality – I encourage you to get in touch with me if you have ideas.
Now for the comfort and joy: Mac and Cheese. I have had mac and cheese exactly once since I had to go gluten free almost four years ago, and it was out of a box and I was sick. As you can probably guess, that was not a good combo. But I’ve periodically thought about it over the years with some nostalgia and fond memories and the occasional craving, but it has not been at the top of my culinary list, partly because it’s so unhealthy and also because it’s kind of basic and plain. But then I was trying to decide what to make for dinner one night, and remembered somewhere in the depths of my brain, that my spirit animal, Ina Garten, (a former policy-wonk-turned-self-taught-culinary-goddess) has a recipe for grownup M&C that includes Gruyere, extra sharp cheddar and blue, all of which I just happened to have in my refrigerator. Oh, and it calls for bacon – I’m using prosciutto instead – so this is a go big or go home kind of meal. Otherwise known as the perfect winter comfort food to go with my winter coat, which I just pulled on for the first time today. (In New England you have to hold out on the big gun coats until it’s realllly cold and not just chilly because if you don’t, you will be screwed when it’s frigid in February.)
So cuddle up, get yourself some cheese and enjoy what I consider the ultimate hygge meal. (Also, FYI that word is pronounced “Hoo-Ga” not “Hi-Ghee”, which is how I pronounced it for the first three years I was saying it. Shhhh, I still pronounce it like that in my head. 😉 )
Hygge Mac & Cheese
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa’s Grown Up Mac & Cheese.
Makes 2 very large servings or 3 regular servings.
- 8 slices thinly sliced prosciutto
- Vegetable oil
- Kosher salt
- 2 cups gluten free pasta (I used Bionaturae fusilli, but would have used Schar if it had been available.)
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons tapioca flour**
- 2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated*
- 5 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated*
- 2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled*
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch nutmeg
- 2 slices gluten free bread or ¼ gluten free baguette
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil leaves
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place a baking rack on a sheet pan and arrange the prosciutto in 1 layer on the baking rack. Bake about 4-5 minutes until crisp, keeping a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the prosciutto to a cutting board. Roughly chop.
- While the prosciutto is cooking, add the bread to a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Add the basil and combine.
- Add oil and pasta to a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook al dente (about 1-2 minutes fewer than the package instructions.)
- Meanwhile, scald the milk in a small saucepan. Create the roux by melting the butter in a medium pot, adding the tapioca flour, and whisking over low heat for 2 minutes. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for 1-2 additional minutes, until you have a thick, smooth sauce.
- Remove the roux from the heat and whisk in the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta and crumbled prosciutto and stir well. Pour into a gratin dish (I use this one.)
- Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the casserole is browned on the top.
Serve and enjoy!***
*The beauty in this is that you can use any kind of cheese you like, as long as it melts. I personally find the blue melts into the background in this dish, but if you don’t like blue, you could sub it out for brie or camembert, or Emmental, or fontina.
** I used tapioca flour because it’s a great thickener and has virtually no flavor. The downside is that you can get clumpiness if you add too little of the milk at first , so you’ll likely need to whisk the roux pretty vigorously.
***I suggest serving this with a salad since it’s so rich. I threw together a quick salad with arugula, pear and pistachios and drizzled olive oil, champagne vinegar and pomegranate molasses on top.
What I’m Reading: The Routledge History of Food.
What I’m Doing: Christmas cooking: fudge, sugar cookies, macarons, red sauce, rollatini, brownies. Yum.
What I’m Eating: Comfort foods.
What I’m Thinking About: USDA policy for the next few years.
Aaannnd, finally, a VERY big thank you to my new best friend Lukas for his help in getting the new site designed and up. You know that expression, “there are no dumb questions”? That is false and Lukas very patiently answered all of mine.