Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Gourmet Skillet Spinach Mac 'n' Cheese

Okay, let's get straight to the point - Mac 'n' Cheese ain't the healthiest food out there, nor is it ever pretending to be. But it is so downright scrumptious that we should all just indulge once a while. After all, it gives us another reason to exercise... right?

Well, the good news is at home you do have the choice to easily create a mac 'n' cheese from scratch your way that is lighter without sacrificing anything that makes a great mac 'n' cheese what it is.

Every time I set foot on New York City, I cannot help but get seduced into artisan cheese shops, their pungent aroma guiding me like a beacon. Many of these gourmet meccas also serve up grilled cheese and delectable mac 'n' cheese. On my recent food crawl in East Village, a sudden spring shower had me ducking under an awning for shelter. As I looked up, there I stood right before S'MAC, a tiny storefront specializing wholly in the almighty mac 'n' cheese. Well, I guess fate has it all planned out.

Beecher's serves up their "World's Best" Mac & Cheese
Beecher's Handmade Cheese (Union Square)

S'MAC (East Village)

Macaroni and cheese these days manifests itself in so many varied ways that long gone are the days when good old mac 'n' cheese only comes in a box with fluorescent orange powdered cheese mix. Whether it is Brie, Cheddar, Gouda, Manchego, or a combination, the cheese defines your mac 'n' cheese. You can load up on garlic and herbs, go green with broccoli, portobello and quinoa, toss in chicken or chorizo, make it gluten-free or vegan, add a touch of Cajun or even an Indian twist - the possibilities are endless. Despite all the permutations, one thing remains constant that makes this American classic truly irresistible: the dreamy creaminess and cheesiness.

My kitchen now equipped with cast iron skillets (my latest obsession), I am determined to make a mean mac 'n' cheese from scratch. I opted for 2% fat milk and went light on cheese and butter; packed in a sizable amount of baby spinach and added just a hint of Roquefort for a grown-up twist; then finally, a crispy homemade Parmesan breadcrumb to top it all - making a macaroni and cheese that is just scrumptiously delicious.

P.S. I promise to get on the treadmill... maybe another day.

What you'll need...
2 cups elbow macaroni, cavatappi, or sea shells
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup low fat milk
2 large handfuls of baby spinach
3/4 scant cup freshly grated Manchego cheese
2 tablespoon blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled (optional)
Pinch of nutmeg* (optional)
Pinch of paprika

For the quick Homemade Seasoned Parmesan Breadcrumbs recipe, click here!

1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil, add pasta and cook until just shy of al dente, 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, microwave milk on HIGH until warm, about 60 seconds.
2. Melt butter in a cast iron skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat, add shallots and garlic and sauté until fragrant, about two minutes. Add flour and, stirring constantly with a whisk, cook until smooth, one minute.

3. Gradually whisk in warm milk and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until thickened and smooth. Using your hands, roughly rip handfuls of baby spinach and fold into the milk mixture. Off the heat as soon as the spinach begins to wilt.

4. Add the cheeses and season with salt, pepper, paprika, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into individual sized gratin dishes if not using cast iron. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the pasta. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.  

Serve immediately, sauce it up with hot sauce and savor every luscious bite!
*Note: though not a must, adding just a pinch of nutmeg enhances and rounds off the creamy cheese sauce with a surprisingly bright, earthy tone.

通心粉  200 克
蒜頭  3 瓣(切碎)
乾蔥  3 個(切碎)
牛油  1 1/2 湯匙
麵粉  2 湯匙
低脂奶  240 毫升
菠菜  200 克
曼徹格芝士碎  75 克
藍紋芝士碎  10 克
肉豆蔻粉  少許
辣椒粉  少許

多士麵包  2-3 塊(已放數天的更合適)
帕爾馬芝士碎  25 克
橄欖油  少許
香草碎  少許
蒜鹽  少許
黑胡椒  少許

預熱焗爐至 150C / 300F。用食物處理器將所有材料打碎,然後平鋪在烤盤上焗約5分鐘,直至金黃香脆。取出晾涼後置密封盒內可冷藏存放四星期。

1. 預熱焗爐至 200C / 400F。
2. 滾水裡加鹽,煮意粉時間約比包裝上指示的少1-2分鐘,煮好撈起備用。
3. 牛奶用微波爐稍為叮熱,約1分鐘。
4. 牛油用慢火煮溶,放入乾蔥及蒜蓉炒香。
5. 倒入麵粉,攪拌約1分鐘,形成均勻的麵粉糊。
6. 慢慢倒入暖奶,期間不停攪拌至麵粉糊均勻融化。融化好了以後用中小火持續加熱和攪拌,直到醬汁收乾呈濃稠狀。
7. 菠菜用手稍微撕碎,再放入醬汁。攪拌好後關火。
8. 加入芝士,持續攪拌至開始融化。此時可以試味並加入適當調味。
9. 將煮好的意粉拌入醬汁中,置入烤盤再撒上自製香草帕爾馬麵包糠。放入焗爐烤約20分鐘直至表面金黃香脆、內裏醬汁沸騰,香味四溢即成!

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