Sunday, August 13, 2017

Italian Mac n Cheese in Personal Ramekins





Mini Farfalle Italian Mac n Cheese in Personal Ramekins

While that is a complicated, really big title, this dish is anything but complicated.  However, it has big flavor that will satisfy any palette. I grew up eating Mac and Cheese.  My mother used to make it once a week.  It was a buck-stretching staple during tough times, and, it was fairly easy for my mom to make after her own long day of work. While my mom seldom strayed from her own recipe for mac n cheese, except for adding deep sweet purple beets to the top of it, now and then to add a veg, which I disliked, I have strayed far from it and have added myriad ingredients to my different mac dishes. Search my recipes and you will find that I have written two or three, maybe more, mac n cheese recipes. Whether it was my mom's mac n cheese or my own, my favorite part remains the crispy cheesy top with cheese bubbling all around it as it fragrantly comes out of the oven. 

I have made Mac n Cheese with hot dogs, roasted green chiles, sweet roasted red peppers, chicken, Spanish chorizo and more.  This recipe, however, is by far my favorite.  For this recipe, I have toned down the ingredients list but kept delightful flavors. I decided on an Italian theme, and decided that less is more.  That theory proved correct!

Let's get to it, shall we?

Ingredients:
1 pound mini farfalle ('bow tie") pasta
1.5 cups buttermilk 
3-4 tablespoons flour
1/2 stick of butter
3 + 3 separated tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound mild Italian ground sausage
4 sprigs fresh thyme 
2 sprigs fresh oregano 
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic + 1 grated or finely chopped
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 palm of salt for the pasta  water
1.5 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Fontina cheese
1/2 cup grated Asiago cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
non-stick spray



You can purchase the cheeses already grated at most grocers and you can do without the fresh herbs, but you know me, I love to use fresh herbs whenever possible. Many grocery stores also now sell onions and garlic, among other veg, finely chopped already, if you do not have time nor the inclination to chop and grate them yourself. Excellent for those with time constraints, folks on-the-go and convenience, overall!

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees.

Add at least four quarts of water to a large pot over high heat to bring to a roiling boil. 

Now, in a large skillet, add three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (evoo) over medium-high heat and crumble and brown the sausage.  Add the onion and garlic, reserving the fourth clove, to the skillet. Add the fresh herbs and all but a teaspoon of dry Italian seasoning. Once done, set aside off the heat. 



By now, the pot of water should be at that roiling boil.  Add about half a palm full of sea salt to the water and stir. Add the pound of mini farfalle, also known as "bow tie" pasta to the pot and stir to prevent sticking. 



Mini bow tie pasta takes 8 minutes to cook until soft. Reserve half a coffee mug of the pasta water and strain the pasta in a colander. 

Place the pot over medium heat and add the other three tablespoons of evoo and the half stick of butter. Add the teaspoon of dry Italian seasoning and garlic to the butter and evoo.  Whisk.  Once the butter begins to foam, add the flour and whisk vigorously to prevent flour clumps. 

Next, add the buttermilk and whisk.  Once incorporated, it will very soon start to boil around the perimeter of the pot. Add the sausage and incorporate well.  Add the mozzarella and, set the whisk aside and use a large wooden spoon to fold in the cheese.  "Folding" means to turn over the mixture rather than stir.  Next, add the Fontina cheese.  Fontina is a soft cheese, perfect for melting. Fold the Fontina in with the mozzarella.  By now the mixture will really begin to thicken.  You may get an arm work-out!  If you need, add a little more milk, a splash at a time, to help loosen it up, and I do mean a splash!  


Watch me whisk......Watch me nae nae!

Now add the Asiago cheese and fold.  At this point, add a good splash of the reserved pasta water. This will slightly loosen the heavy mixture, and slightly is the goal.  It should be thick. 

Finally, add the pasta and the remaining pasta water from the mug and fold in the pasta thoroughly. 

Now, spray four -  six personal ramekins with olive oil non-stick spray.  Add a little water to a roasting pan so that it just covers the surface area of the pan. Add a heaping spoon full of the mac and cheese to a ramekin and top with a little grated parmesan cheese. Drizzle with a little evoo. Repeat until all of the ramekins are filled. Stagger them in the roasting pan and place the pan into the oven.  Bake for 20 minutes.  The water adds a bit more moisture and protects the ramekins from cracking. 







And when time's up, the top of the mac and cheese will be golden brown and crispy and amazingly flavorful.  It is truly amazing.  The flavors of Italia will waft through the kitchen and home when you open the oven and carefully remove the pan. And be careful! Remember, there is hot water in it!!!

Let the ramekins rest about eight minutes out of the roasting pan.  Top with fresh chiffonade basil and enjoy!  




The Mini Farfalle is PERFECT for this dish!!!

When I decided on this dish, I could not help but think about my dear friend, Morgan, who LOVES Mac n Cheese, and for some reason, I have never made it for him.  So Morgan, this one is for you!



As always, THANK YOU, friends, for your viewership and readership, your time and consideration.  I am grateful for all of you!

Now, I hope you are suffering about wanting to get to the pantry or store to make this dish!  Go!  Go cook for someone you love!!!!  

~Martin
In-House Cook