Getting Started: Mac and Two Cheeses with Caramelized Shallots

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I have to confess: I don’t know where this project is going, and in fact I think that’s why I haven’t started it before now. What I do know is, every time I try a new recipe and add it to my collection, I think to myself, I really should start writing this stuff down—not because I consider myself to have any culinary expertise whatsoever, or any exceptional pizazz, but just because it’s fun to learn how to cook, and it’s fairly eye-opening to keep track of how far one has come (when I moved to New York two years ago, I specialized in grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of cereal. I like to think I’ve moved onward and upward since then). So for now, this blog doesn’t have any particular theme, and it’s not aimed toward anyone in particular aside from those I hold near and dear. It’s just me, my four-burner electric range, my lifelong zest for trying out new foods, and you.  On with the show.

Supposedly it’s June in New York, but we haven’t had a whole lot in the way of summery or even springy weather lately—it’s been cloudy and chilly and wet and..ugh. The other night, my good friend Jamie came over for dinner, and I wasn’t sure what to prepare for him. It was the kind of night where you don’t really want to do anything except eat something hearty and warm and watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey (which we did). I decided a baked pasta was the way to go, and I stumbled upon this recipe, which is a real gem and definitely bears repeating. It uses an entire brick of cheddar cheese, as well as half and half, so make it if you’re feeling especially indulgent or if you have been particularly good lately. The result is well worth the splurge.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons butter plus more for baking dish
  • 3 cups sliced large shallots (about 6)
  • 1 pound ziti rigate (that is, the ridgy ones)
  • 1 1/4 cups half and half
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce (B.A. suggests Choula; I used Frank’s)
  • 2 cups (packed) coarsely grated extra sharp cheddar cheese (about 8 ounces)—that’s right; a whole brick of cheese.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup crumbled soft fresh goat cheese

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 400°F. I like to do the prep work ahead of time when I first try out a recipe, because once it gets going, timing’s important—you don’t want to leave sauce to congeal or pasta to stick together. And you really don’t want to be a flustered mess when you’re trying to impress your friends with your culinary savvy. Fill a large pot with water and set it to boil. In the meantime, slice your shallots, grate your cheddar cheese and toss it in a bowl with your flour, and butter your casserole dish.*

When the water comes to a boil, salt it and cook the pasta to al dente–just tender but still firm to bite. While the pasta boils, melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add your sliced shallots and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring often and turning them over. Reduce heat to medium. Cook, covered, until shallots are deep brown, stirring often, about 6 minutes.

Drain your pasta when it’s al dente and turn off the heat under the shallots when they’re done. In the same pot that you cooked your pasta in, bring the half and half and hot sauce to simmer over medium heat. I get really paranoid about letting things sit on the stove some reason—just ask my sister how demanding I can be about a well-stirred risotto—so give it a stir every now and then. When it simmers, throw in the cheddar a handful at a time. Whisk until sauce is smooth and just returns to simmer, about 2 minutes. Mix in pasta. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread the pasta mixture in your buttered dish. Top with shallots, then goat cheese. Sprinkle with pepper. Bake until heated through, about 15 minutes.

*The easiest way I know to do this, besides using cooking spray, is the trick my mom used when we used to make cinnamon buns together when I was a kid. Put your hand inside a plastic sandwich bag like a glove, put a pat of butter on it, and just spread it around. The heat from your hand will melt the butter evenly and easily. Plus it’s fun.

The Verdict:

Oh man, this was too good. The Bon Appetit recipe called for elbow macaroni, but I used ziti rigate because I’ve found that elbow mac gets a little soggy sometimes, and also the ridges on the ziti really hold the sauce nicely. If—who am I kidding—when I make it again, I’d use more shallots (I only had four on hand when I made this; I think you should go for the full six in the recipe). They add a tangy, sweet, yet pungent flavor that goes beautifully with the goat cheese topping.  And, what the heck, use as much goat cheese as you want. I sort of wished I’d used more. The hot sauce isn’t at all overpowering, but pairs quite well with the sharpness of the cheddar in the sauce and adds a nice little kick to boot. If heat isn’t your thing, start with one teaspoon and adjust to taste.

We paired this baby with a bottle of Pinot noir and a simple salad made from mixed greens, a thinly sliced bosc pear, dried cranberries, almonds, and homemade red wine vinaigrette.

Prepping the salad--Jamie shows how it's done.

Prepping the salad--Jamie shows how it's done.

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One Response to “Getting Started: Mac and Two Cheeses with Caramelized Shallots”

  1. Michael Aboodi Says:

    oOOooooOOO that looks so yummy and gooey. gooey things are so delicious, aren’t they! now i am even MORE excited to cook with you =).

    P.S. Re: RHONJ. AHHHHHH DID YOU SEE THE FINALE LAST NIGHT!!!!! Teresa went BATSHIT!! It was sooooooo good.

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