Author: Tara Daley
As an impoverished college student, I always seize the opportunity to go grocery shopping with my mom over winter break. Attracted to things with exotic names or pretty packaging, we often splurge, half-consciously ignoring the outrageously high prices. Super-aged cheddar, chocolate with sea salted caramel and organic Kona coffee – when my mom’s buying, I have no problem putting these items in the basket.
When at Oxy, however, I often fall into a trap of frugality that seems to notoriously accompany the college (and immediate post-college) years. I buy whatever cooking supplies I can at the Marketplace (despite the strange looks one receives for buying 10 apples at a time) and have trained myself to believe that a bowl of cereal and a spoonful of peanut butter counts as a meal. Even still, there are some necessary desires to splurge that I can’t seem to quiet.
While the occasional indulgence in Valhrona chocolate for baking or expensive wine for cooking can be warranted for a special occasion, most of my grocery money goes toward cheese – I currently have eight different types in my refrigerator. Usually I buy whatever is reasonable in price and in quality, but when it comes to cheese, I buy what I want with a snobbish disregard for the price. With an assortment of fancy cheese leftover from a party, I felt inclined to bring some of my favorite cheeses together in decadent, comforting harmony, a harmony only found in a revamp of a classic – mac and cheese.
Truffled Mac and Cheese(yields six large servings)
1 lb pasta (spirals, shells, or elbows)
Cheese SauceSalt and pepperSpices (I recommend rosemary and basil or Italian seasoning)4 tablespoons unsalted butter4 tablespoons flour1 tsp chopped garlic2 cups hot milk3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese3/4 cup shredded gruyere1/2 cup crumbled feta1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Topping1/4 cup breadcrumbs1/4 cup grated parmesan2 tablespoons Truffle-infused oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and boil water for pasta. Cook pasta according to the instructions on the package; drain and set aside. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the cheese sauce.
In a saucepan, carefully melt the butter at medium heat. It should bubble, but it should not get brown! Add the flour and quickly whisk it in to create a roux (flour and butter base for sauces). Continue stirring for approximately five minutes to cook the flour and remove its inherently chalky flavor. When the roux is ready, it will be golden brown. Next, add the hot milk steadily and stir until the roux and milk are well-blended. Let this sauce simmer, stirring it occasionally, for five minutes. Add salt, pepper and spices to taste. Add all grated cheeses and stir diligently over heat until the cheeses are mostly melted.
Place the pasta in a large baking/casserole dish and pour the cheese sauce over. Stir to assure the pasta is evenly coated. Top the pasta with breadcrumbs, parmesan and additional herbs and spices if you so desire.
Bake the dish for 10-15 minutes, or until the top looks crispy and golden brown. Upon removing from the oven, drizzle 2 tablespoons of black truffle oil over the crusty top. Black truffle oil, even if it is the less expensive truffle-infused oil, adds a woody richness to the dish that I find delectable, but it’s totally optional.
Annie’s shells and blue box Kraft definitely have their place in my heart, but baked, homemade mac and cheese exists in an essentially different category. What is great about the homemade version is how easily you can customize it to your personal tastes and pantry.
If you do not share my mildly ridiculous passion for pretentiously-priced cheese, basic cheddar and mozzarella, even the shredded versions from the Marketplace, can work beautifully. You can use whole wheat pasta or gluten free pasta in whichever shape you have or prefer. You can even add chopped pancetta, sausage or assorted vegetables, such as peas or tomatoes, into the mix.
The potential alterations are plentiful and almost unanimously delicious, and though it requires a roux as well as some baking, the recipe is pretty quick and easy to do in a dorm kitchen. Armed with a bag of gluten free pasta, some rice flour, and fresh cuts of exciting cheeses, I was able to make truffled mac and cheese that truly let the colors of my nine-dollar aged Canadian cheddar shine.
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