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What’s Up, Mac?

This classic comes in many guises: Find one you love.


Published:

Sara Remington

I once spent $200 on mac ‘n’ cheese ingredients. It was for a big party, sure, but I got a little carried away.

I went to the Cheese Board in Berkeley and took home a giant block of aged white cheddar, a few logs of goat cheese, a tub or two of mascarpone, and the clincher, a half wheel of Spanish Manchego.

A lot of work. And a lot of money. I wish I had then what’s available now: three new cookbooks devoted entirely to mac ‘n’ cheese—all by Bay Area authors.

First up is The Mac + Cheese Cookbook, by the experts at Homeroom in Oakland. Co-owners Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade tried hundreds of recipes before settling on one for their book’s classic mac. It calls for one part Pecorino Romano to three parts aged cheddar.   

Then, there’s the unpretentious Mac & Cheese, Please, by Bay Area cheese guru Laura Werlin. With its 50 easy and “super cheesy” recipes, the book makes a case for changing the classic dish’s name to cheese ‘n’ mac.  She says mac ‘n’ cheese is so popular right now because, “it comfortably straddles the line between down-home and food-lover food.”

The masterpieces in Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, cowritten by Oakland food writer Stephanie Stiavetti, are definitely geared more to the food lover. Case in point: chocolate pasta with Bûcheron cheese, hazelnuts, and cherries.

Sounds delicious. And I bet it doesn’t even cost $200.

To see recipes from all three cookbooks, scroll down.


 

Mac Sauce

From The Mac + Cheese Cookbook by Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade

Makes 3 cups
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt

1. Heat milk in a pot over medium heat until it starts to bubble, but is not boiling (3 to 4 minutes). Remove from heat.

2. Heat butter over medium heat in a separate, heavy-bottomed pot. When it has just melted, add flour and whisk constantly, until the mixture turns light brown (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat.

3. Slowly pour warm milk (about 1 cup at a time) into butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. It will get very thick when you first add the milk, and thinner as you slowly pour in the entire 3 cups. 

4. Once all milk has been added, set pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly. In the next 2 to 3 minutes the sauce should come together and become silky and thick. Use the spoon test to make sure it’s ready. (To do this, dip a metal spoon into the sauce—if the sauce coats the spoon and doesn’t slide off like milk, you’ll know it’s ready.) You should be able to run your finger along the spoon and have the impression remain. Add the salt.

5. The Mac Sauce is ready to use immediately and does not need to cool.

Store it in the fridge for a day or two if you want to make it ahead of time—it will get a lot thicker when put in the fridge, so it may need a little milk to thin it out a bit when it comes time to melt in the cheese. Try melting the cheese into the sauce first, and if it is too thick, add milk as needed.


 

Trailer Mac

From The Mac + Cheese Cookbook by Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade

Serves 4
1/2 pound dried elbow pasta
2 cups Mac Sauce (See recipe above)
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 to 1 cup chopped hot dogs
2 cups crushed potato chips, for topping

1. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain and rinse pasta with cold water, then drain again.

2. Add sauce, Cheddar, and the hot dogs to a large, heavy-bottomed pot, and cook over medium heat.

3. Stir until cheese is barely melted (about 3 minutes).

4. Slowly add cooked pasta. Stir, and continue cooking while stirring continuously until the dish is nice and hot (another 5 minutes).

5. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with potato chips. Serve immediately.


 

Classic Mac

From The Mac + Cheese Cookbook by Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade

Serves 4
1/2 pound dried elbow pasta
2 cups Mac Sauce (See recipe above)
1 1/2 cups grated 2-year–aged, extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain, rinse the pasta with cold water, and drain it again.

2. Add the sauce and both cheeses to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat. Stir until the cheese is barely melted, about 3 minutes.

3. Slowly add the cooked pasta, stir, and continue cooking while stirring continuously until the pasta is hot and steaming, another 5 minutes. Spoon into bowls and enjoy!

Variations: Or, get creative. Add things like broccoli, peas, hot peppers, or bacon when you add the cooked pasta. You can also sprinkle a little panko on top and cook in a 400-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes for a version that’s crispy on top and creamy inside.


 

Gilroy Garlic Mac

From The Mac + Cheese Cookbook by Allison Arevalo and Erin Wade

Serves 4
4 large cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 pound dried elbow pasta
2 cups Mac Sauce (See above recipe)
11/2 cups grated Gouda cheese
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1. In a small bowl, mash together minced garlic and butter to form a compound butter.

2. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain pasta again.

3. Add sauce, both cheeses, and garlic butter to a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Cook over medium heat. Stir until the cheese is barely melted (about 3 minutes).

4. Slowly add cooked pasta and stir. Continue cooking while stirring continuously until the dish is nice and hot (another 5 minutes). Spoon into bowls and serve hot.


 

Nacho Mac & Cheese

From Mac & Cheese, Please! by Laura Werlin

Serves 10-12
12 ounces tortilla chips
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound small shell pasta
½ cup canola or vegetable oil
1 large red onion, (about 12 ounces), coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole or reduced-fat milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 5 ¼ cups)
8 ounces pepper Jack cheese, coarsely grated (about 2½ cups)
1 ½ cups sour cream
1 cup sliced black olives
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
¼ cup canned or jarred jalapeños, finely chopped
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (or use feta)
1 cup store-bought salsa
Guacamole

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Butter a 9 x 13 (3-quart) baking dish or pan. Set aside.

2. Place tortilla chips in food processor and pulse until the chips are coarse (but not sand-like). (Alternatively, put the tortilla chips in a large re-sealable plastic bag and use a rolling pin or other heavy object to crush the chips.) Set aside.

3. Fill a 6- to 8-quart pot about three-quarters full with water and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil and add pasta. Cook, stirring once or twice, until tender but firm (about 4 minutes). Drain.

4. Using the same pot you used to cook the pasta, heat the oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft. Slowly whisk in flour, and stir constantly until the onion is coated with the flour (30 to 45 seconds). Continue stirring for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the mixture starts to darken slightly and smell a bit nutty. Slowly whisk in milk, cream, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and cook until the mixture starts to thicken and is just beginning to bubble around the edges (5 to 7 minutes). It should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add 3 cups of the cheddar and the pepper Jack and stir until the sauce is smooth but not too runny. It should be similar in texture to cake batter. If it’s soupy, continue cooking until it thickens.

5. Add pasta, ½ cup of the sour cream, olives, chopped cilantro, jalapeños, and cayenne. Pour into prepared baking dish. Top with crushed tortillas, and sprinkle with the remaining cheddar. Put dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until bubbling and golden brown (about 30 minutes).

6. Remove from oven and sprinkle with queso fresco (or feta). Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes. To serve, garnish each serving with a cilantro sprig. Pass salsa, guacamole, and the remaining 1 cup sour cream.

Add-ins: Rotisserie chicken: Cut 1½ pounds cooked rotisserie chicken into bite-size pieces. Add along with the pasta. Alternatively, shred the chicken and use as to top each serving.


 

Goat Cheese, Mozzarella , Basil and Tomato Mac & Cheese

From Mac & Cheese, Please! by Laura Werlin

Serves 6 to 8
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces small conchiglie (shell) pasta (or use small elbow macaroni)
1 tablespoon salted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups skim milk
½ cup reduced- or low-fat milk
4 ounces fresh goat cheese, coarsely crumbled (about ¾ cup)
6 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)
¾ cup coarsely chopped fresh basil, plus 8 leaves for garnish
2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon zest
1 ½ cups halved cherry tomatoes
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated
Fresh ground pepper

 

1. Fill a 4- to 5- quart pot about three-quarters full with water and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. Cook, stirring once or twice, until tender but firm (4 to 6 minutes). Drain.

2. Using the same pot you used to make the pasta, heat butter and oil over medium heat. Slowly whisk in the flour and stir constantly until a paste forms (30 to 45 seconds). Continue stirring for 1 to 2 minutes more, until the mixture starts to darken slightly and smell a bit nutty. Turn heat to medium-low. Slowly whisk in milks and the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and cook until the mixture is hot and just beginning to bubble around the edges (5 to 7 minutes). It should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add the cheeses, the chopped basil, and lemon zest and stir until the sauce is smooth but not runny. It should be similar in texture to cake batter. If it’s soupy, continue cooking until it thickens.

3. Add pasta and half the tomatoes and stir just until mixed in. Ladle into bowls and top with the remaining tomatoes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and black pepper. Garnish with basil leaves and serve right away.


 

Chocolate Pasta with Bucherondin, Hazelnuts, and Cherries

From Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord

Serves 2 to 4
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ teaspoon mustard powder
1 heaping tablespoon cocoa nibs
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
½ cup hazelnuts
12 ounces chocolate pasta (preferably linguine, but use what you can find)
5 ounces Bucherondin, roughly broken apart
1 cup pitted cherries (Bing, Brooks, or Rainier are all lovely varieties)
2 cups whole arugula leaves, washed and dried

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place hazelnut oil, red wine vinegar, maple syrup, ground mustard, cocoa nibs, salt, and pepper in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and shake vigorously to combine. (A bowl and whisk will do this job just fine, too.) Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Set aside.

2. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the skins darken and blister, and the nuts are hauntingly fragrant. Wrap the hazelnuts in a clean dishtowel and leave them to steam for 1 minute. Rub the nuts in the dishtowel to scrub the skins off. (Don’t worry if some of the skins stay; you just want the bulk of them removed.) Roughly chop nuts and set aside.

3. While hazelnuts are roasting, cook pasta until al dente. Drain through a colander and divide pasta evenly among four bowls.

4. Scatter Bucherondin over the top of the pasta, followed by the cherries and hazelnuts. Top each bowl joyfully with a carefree handful of arugula, dress with the vinaigrette, and serve.

Alternative cheeses: Bûcheron, Zingerman’s Lincoln Log, Caña de Cabra

Wine pairings: rosés, California Pinot Noirs

Additional pairings for the cheese: preserved cherries, tea preserves, fresh figs, mangoes

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