As people sometimes do, my partner and I spent New Year’s Eve at a friend’s house. As is customary, we showed up with a bottle of carbonated alcoholic beverage product (in other words, Sonoma County, California’s approximation of champagne). And as luck would have it — or because old age and early bedtimes have snuck up on us out of nowhere — there was more wine purchased, by host and by guests, than was actually imbibed. Our host encouraged us to take our already chilled bottle home.
So we did, stashing it in the fridge until we could figure out what to do with it.
I’m reasonably knowledgeable about pairing wines to food, but less so about pairing food to wine. (And champagne-type wines are ones I’m particularly used to drinking without food.) My faith in the Internet being absolute, I got out my Google and went to town.
Google directed me to a couple of sites that suggested my now white elephant wine might go well with something like chicken in a butter sauce or anything in a cream sauce.
Now, I have to admit, I don’t recall exactly how I accomplished the mental meandering between “cream sauce” and “white cheese mac and cheese,” but I know that my partner and I finalized the recipe (ingredients, at least, if not amounts) in a few conversations together. As we were putting it together, I noted amounts, and this is what it turned out like.
Dietary note: This recipe contains meat, dairy, and wheat gluten. The meat here is pretty optional: easily omittable or substitute-able. From what I know of gluten-free pasta, it should also be workable to substitute that for the pasta listed here, if you so desire. The only thing I’m not sure about is the dairy, since it involves not only just using but also heating milk and cheese, and I’m not sure if non-dairy substitutes behave the same way chemically. If anyone knows about this sort of thing, I’d welcome the information — but I do not have it myself.
Gouda Mac and Cheese
What We Used:
5 cups cooked or 2.5 cups dry whole wheat pasta (we used rotini, but elbow, bowtie, or other short pasta would work fine)
4 oz. pancetta, sliced or diced small
2 cups shredded Gouda cheese*
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese*
1/4 cup plus a little butter or margarine
1 cup milk
1-2 tablespoons corn starch
enough water to liquefy the corn starch
black pepper to taste
How We Put It Together:
- Preheat oven to 350F. (Our oven takes a while to heat up. Plus it is winter here, and we don’t mind the extra house heat. If your situation is different, you might want to do this a bit later.)
- Make and drain the pasta.
- Use the “plus a little” butter or margarine to grease the bottom and sides of a square baking dish. (I do not remember if ours is 8″ by 8″ or 9″ by 9″.)
- Toss the pancetta with the pasta and lay the mixture in the pan.
- In a saucepan, melt the 1/4 cup of butter. While the butter is melting, mix the corn starch with enough cold water to liquefy it.
- Add the milk. Once the milk is warm, add about 1/2 the cornstarch mixture, keeping the rest close by.
- At this point, the directions on the mixture include the unspoken “while stirring constantly” additive. I normally hate “stir constantly” recipes, but I promise this does not last too very long and also is worth it.
- Slowly, small handful by small handful, add a generous 3 cups of the shredded cheese mixture to the milk and butter. If you’re using 2 different cheeses, it’s nice to go half and half, but this is not strictly necessary.
- If at any point, the cheese sauce is starting to get clumpy, even with constant stirring, you may wish to add a bit more of the cornstarch mixture.
- Once ~3 cups of the cheese is dissolved into cheese sauce, add black pepper to taste, and then pour the cheese sauce over the noodles and pancetta in the pan.
- Bake at 350F for approximately 20 minutes. (When we did this, our noodles were still hot. You may need to bake longer if your noodles start out cold.)
- Briefly remove the mac and cheese from the oven. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese on top. Continue baking for another 10-15 minutes.
- You know it’s done when the cheese is turning all brown and bubbly at the top.
- Allow to cool a few minutes. It will be tempting, but trust me — this is for the best. That shit is hot. (Guess who burned her tongue tonight?)
I have to admit, when I was planning out the ingredients and also preparing this, I had some serious self-food-policing anxiety. I mean, it has something like a pound of cheese the way I did it, plus butter, plus a salty, not-so-lean meat. So there’s some insight to foods I code as “bad.” Whether it was a good idea or not, I did spend some time internally justifying this recipe to myself as a special dish for an anomalous occasion. (Because while I wouldn’t call “finding an excuse to drink the New Year’s wine” a special occasion, it is not one that is likely to repeat itself regularly.)
Upon tasting it, however, a lot of my food guilt went away. It tasted fabulous, creamy and just enough salty and savory. While it did feel rich, it didn’t feel heavy; the cheese sauce and pancetta were balanced out by what I can only describe as the “whole grain-iness” of the pasta. And of course, it paired quite well with the wine.
If I had it to do again — and I certainly might at some point — I’d consider adding a bit of garlic powder and just a smidgen of thyme into the cheese sauce to enhance the savory aspect of this mac and cheese. I probably won’t do it again for a while, though. Not because foods with so much cheese are “bad” — but they are a bit more than my budget can afford to work into the regular food rotation.
Finally, I had taken a picture of our mac and cheese dish on my phone. But alas, my husband informed me that the only way to transfer it from our phone was as a pay-per-use data transfer. Which, it was good mac and cheese and all, but I am just not interested in going there with my phone company. So have a happy Wiki Commons picture instead:
* We made it this way with a smoked Gouda from our local deli case. If I were using a non-flavored Gouda, I might shift the ratio more toward the Gouda and away from the mozz.