Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Macaroni Gratin

Who doesn't like macaroni and cheese? Really, is there anyone? I didn't think so. This is a pretty amazing, and fairly simple dish to put together. Keller talks it about it being "a standard side dish in bistros, but in my bistro it's the whole dinner. It's very rich, but every bite is worth it.

Just to set the bounds a little bit, I should mention that this recipe offers the chance to make the macaroni gratin your own by adding in things like mushrooms or ham. I decided to go the boring route and just make it plain, and I'm kind of glad that I did. I tend to like my food simple; the fewer the ingredients the better. You can add ham or mushrooms to yours, it just won't be as good as mine was.

The shopping list for this is pretty simple, and nothing you wouldn't expect from a macaroni and cheese recipe. Well, a Thomas Keller macaroni and cheese recipe anyway. We've got elbow macaroni, nutmeg, thyme, Comte cheese, and panko breadcrumbs.

You're also going to need some mornay sauce. You're not going to find that at the store, so go read about it here.

Step number 1: Make the macaroni. This requires absolutely no explanation other than to note that after you cook it, rinse it in cold water and drain it on paper towels. Let it hang out there while you're busy doing other things.

I had made the mornay sauce the previous night so I had to reheat it. I took the books advice and added a little extra cream as it warmed because it was more than a bit thick. That warmed up well, and I added the macaroni then seasoned it with some salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg. This is also where the ham, mushrooms, lucky charms, or whatever else you had laying around to ruin the macaroni and cheese would go in. But you're not going to do that, right?

It all went into the nice casserole dish that you saw in the picture above. While the pasta was cooking I had mixed together the thyme, cheese, and breadcrumbs for the topping. I sprinkled that across the top of the casserole dish, and into the oven it went. I think I kept it in for about 20 minutes and then broiled it for a few more to attempt to brown the top. I only partially succeeded with the browning because my casserole dish is labeled, quite prominently, NO BROILER. So I left it in there until I has far surpassed my comfort zone, and this is what popped out. Not too shabby:

It was thick and gooey, yet crisp on the top. The one improvement that I would have made would be to increase the amount of breadcrumbs and cheese in the topping. It was a little thyme heavy for me. More importantly though, I really like that crisp topping. It also served as lunch the next day, where it served it's role admirably. The sauce may have lost a little of its original creaminess, but it was still well worth eating. Overall this was an incredibly good and pretty easy dish to make, even if i did spread it over two nights.

I've been saying most of the recent dishes have been easy. That either means my skills are advancing, or the end of this little venture is going to be very difficult. Hopefully it's the former.


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