Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Daily Bite: The best Mac and Cheese in the whole wide world

After talking so much about food in my previous post, I thought this would be a great opportunity to start the food section of this blog. There are hundreds of fantastic recipes that have been in my family for many generations. They are mostly a combination of earthy Italian flavors, mixed with a pinch of rustic ingredients that my grandmother has been passing along through the years. Her country style cooking always reflects her moods and whatever was available in the pantry. That’s how some of the best recipes were born and I will cherish them for life.

This is what I consider some of the best Mac and Cheese, ever. I have to warn you though, this recipe is not for the faint of heart due to the very rich and succulent flavors. There are about 5 different cheeses all combined together with the sweetness of the zucchinis and mushrooms. Paired with a refreshing arugula salad and a nice glass of Chianti can easily satisfy every foodie’s desire.

The dish is called Pasticcio Provenzale and this is how it goes:

You will need about 500 gr. of maccheroncini (it’s a little over a pound). I use the brand Setaro, which I usually buy at the Italian store inside the Chelsea Market here in New York City, but any good brand of pasta will do. A couple of medium sized zucchini, cubed and about 8 oz of white mushrooms, cubed as well.
In a large saucepan, warm up 3 tablespoon of olive oil and 3 garlic cloves, minced. Then add about 2 slices of round pancetta, cubed. Each slice is about half an inch thick. Let it cook for a couple of minutes with the garlic and the olive oil and then add the zucchinis and mushrooms. Add salt, fresh pepper and a pinch of herbs the Provence (this is usually a mix that you can buy already pre-made or you can just use a pinch of fresh thyme with a hint of rosemary). Saute for about five minutes, keeping the veggies nice and crispy. Put aside to rest.
You will need a combination of 4 different kinds of cheeses to mix with the pasta. I usually buy fresh mozzarella (8 oz), Swiss cheese (4 oz), Fontina (4 oz) and Gruyere (4 oz) and cube it all together.
In a big pot, bring to a boil some water to cook the pasta and in the meantime start preparing the besciamella sauce. This is a very delicate white sauce that you will use to mix the veggies and the pasta and to finally top the Pasticcio.

Besciamella Sauce:
5 tablespoons of unsalted butter
½ cup of all-purpose flour
4 cups of whole milk at room temperature
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Salt and white pepper

In a medium size pot melt the 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When it’s completely melted, add the flour and whisk for about 2 minutes until it’s completely smooth. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to avoid any lumps. Simmer and whisk until the sauce is thick and creamy. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the seasonings.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes or half the time suggested on the box.
Preheat the oven at 375˚.
Drain the pasta, reserving a little bit of the water aside and mix it with the veggies. Add half of the besciamella sauce and all the cubed cheeses. I usually add a bit of the boiling water to keep the pasta smooth and just a bit loose. Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese (or Pecorino cheese, if you prefer), fresh pepper and put it in a 9”x13” baking dish. Make sure you grease the bottom and the sides of the dish with some butter beforehand. Top with the remaining besciamella sauce and some breadcrumbs, this will create the crunchy crust.
Bake for 25 minutes and then heat from the top for about 5 minutes or until you see a nice golden crust.
Let it sit for about half an hour and…enjoy it!

Buon Appetito!

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