I’m a sucker for interesting pasta shapes. Even though the pantry is currently overflowing with pasta, I couldn’t pass the Barilla sale display without picking up a box of this cool pasta shape. Fusilli bucati corti are spring shaped noodles with a hollow center - way more interesting than rotini or regular fusilli. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever used elbow macaroni for mac and cheese. It's just too boring.
I like making mac and cheese on the stovetop because I can control how cooked pasta is and keep the sauce from curdling. I've had sauce curdle on me in the past, which was so not tasty, and it's something I've been paranoid about ever since. I do miss seeing the mac and cheese come out all bubbly and browned from the oven with the toasty bread crumbs on top but it's a sacrifice I've come to terms with. Plus, we don't have a dishwasher and it's one less dish to wash. I just toast some bread crumbs with a little butter and some herbs either in a skillet or in the toaster oven; it's not the same but it's good enough.
The most important thing about mac and cheese is the cheese. Duh. Always use freshly grated cheese because the preshredded stuff is coated in questionable "non-clumping" agents that makes the sauce grainy. Today I used a combination of extra sharp white cheddar and some Parmesan but in the past I've used combination of Cheddar, Monterey, and/or Gruyere. I finished it off with a little splash of white wine, something I borrowed from cheese fondue recipes. Feel free to be creative with the extras. I recently picked up a bag of cooked and shelled langoustines from my local TJ's, which I'm guessing are like mini lobsters or crawfish? I threw some of those in but they are totally optional. You can use kielbasa, ham, Dungeness crab, or leave it plain. I tried to convince Steven to let me put some peas in but that endeavor was immediately shot down.
Mac and Cheese
serves 2 - 3 as entree, 3- 4 as appetizer
8 oz. pasta of your choice
3 slices regular or 2 slices thick cut bacon, cut into thin strips
1 shallot, minced
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 C milk, preferably whole
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
4 oz cooked langoustines or whatever extras you feel like adding
Freshly ground black pepper
A little grating of nutmeg (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)
2 C shredded extra sharp Cheddar
1/2 C shredded Parmesan or Gruyere
Cook the pasta according to your tastes for mac and cheese, al dente or soft, up to you.
While the pasta is cooking, start the sauce. If the pasta finishes cooking before the cheese sauce, drain the pasta and set it aside.
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until most of the fat has rendered and it is beginning to crisp. Add the minced shallot and some salt and cook until the shallots have softened.
Add the flour and cook the flour until it is golden brown. Slowly drizzle in the milk while whisking. Make sure to whisk out all the clumps of flour.
Add the langoustines, Dijon, black pepper, nutmeg and cayenne if using, and whisk the bechamel until it has thickened and is bubbling. Stir in the white wine and turn off the heat.
Wait until the bechamel is no longer bubbling to add the cheese. Whisk until the sauce is smooth and then salt to taste. Stir in the pasta and serve.