Back, oh so many years ago….I had a post that became popular. At least in my micro-blogger world, it became popular. For a very long time, this was the most visited page on Mel’s Diner. It took the lovely Nigella and a failed, mace-induced nightmare to do a busty coup d’etat to take top place (Is that actually a win?). Well, in the resurrection of Mel’s Diner, what should start to get hits again? Roasted Red Pepper Gnocchi. To me, a slice of happiness. To the rest of he world? The post that won’t die (and I hope it never does).
The first time Clearblogs, my first blog hosting service disappeared, I said I wasn’t all that unhappy because it gave me a chance to repost all of my best recipes. Of course, Clearblogs reappeared and I never reposted any of the great recipes.
Then, just a month or so ago, Clearblogs disappeared again and this time, it looks for good. So, I’m taking this opportunity to repost some of what I consider my best recipes. And one of the best is Mike’s Mac and Cheese. This post will actually be the THIRD time it has graced the cyber-pages of Mel’s Diner. The first post was obviously the original Mel’s Diner post and it re-appeared as a link on a Best of… post.
I made this two times this weekend, perfecting the recipe. I made it on Saturday for the family to eat for dinner that night and again on Sunday to bring in to work for some very deserving friends.
As I said in the original post, what makes this Mac and Cheese so good in the Béchamel Sauce (actually an extra cheesy Mornay Sauce). Steeping the diary in a mirepoix and bouquet garni adds a depth of flavor to the resulting cheese sauce that regular mac and cheese can never match. Trust me, if I had this as a weapon in high school (or college), I would have had a lot more girlfriends that I did. Chicks dig guys who can cook.
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 small carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- Bouquet Garni (bay leaf, peppercorns, parsley stems, thyme, etc.)
- 4 cups of Light Cream
- 2 tbs. of butter
- 1 ½ cups of shredded cheese (cheddar, jack, muenster, etc. Must be at least half Cheddar!)
- ½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 1/2 Tbls. flour
- 2/3 pound of pasta
- nutmeg, cayenne, salt and white pepper
Make the Béchamel:
Add the onion, carrot, celery and the bouquet garni into a large pan with the milk and cream. You can see I couldn’t find my cheesecloth, so my bouquet ended up in the pot along with the mirepoix:
Heat to a boil, turn off and allow the aromatics to steep in the dairy for thirty minutes. After thirty minutes, strain the dairy into another pot and bring to a simmer. While that is happening, melt the butter and add the flour. Stir into a roux and cook the roux to a pale stage. Add the hot dairy and whisk until it comes to a boil. After it thickens, it will be the consistency of gravy.
Make the Mac and Cheese:
Cook the pasta in another pot (I prefer small tube pasta, like macaroni) until totally done, no al dente, please. Add the cheeses to the sauce and whisk to combine. I used 1 cup of cheddar, one half cup of jack cheese and, of course, the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
After the sauce is smooth, add the pasta to the sauce. Add the nutmeg, cayenne, salt and white pepper to taste. It is going to be VERY soupy – don’t panic.
As it cools, the pasta will soak up the sauce until it’s just right. It seems dry, add more cream, or as I did the last time, a bit of the past water and re-taste for salt and pepper.
Does that say Presto Pasta Night? Yes, Mike has finally made it back to Presto Pasta Night. I haven’t come back with something so remarkable and special that it warrants such a long absence. That being said, it was still pretty good, so here goes.
Mike’s Goulashy-Type Dish(In Southern New Hampshire, Goulash is called, for reasons unknown, “American Chop Suey”. It makes as much sense as calling it “Canada” or perhaps, “American Mary Poppins”. I refuse to address it.)
- 1 Pound of Hamburger
- 1 Chopped Onion
- 1 Chopped Green Pepper
- 1 can Whole Tomatoes, crushed
- ¾ Tbls. Paprika
- Grated Parmesan
- ½ pound Macaroni, cooked
Start to brown hamburger and add onions and peppers to cook together. When hamburger is cooked and onion and peppers are soft, crush tomatoes by hand and add with salt and pepper. Cook for five minutes, add paprika and cook down until thickened. Add cheese and cooked macaroni. Warm and adjust seasoning, including cheese.
It’s really simple, good for a weeknight and pretty tasty. It’s not winning Michelin stars or James Beard awards, but it is good.
This post is kind of a cheat, but not really. I first posted this recipe back in May of 2007, but it was flawed and because it’s so good when made right, I felt I needed to fix it. So, tonight I made it again and this time, I paid attention to what was different.
So here it is, my updated, revised, pretty stinking perfect Mac and Cheese.
(I would post the whole thing all over again, but why? So here’s the link to the updated recipe. I hope this counts for the Blessed Ruth.)
Tonight, I managed a two ‘fer. I made a dish for both Presto Pasta Night and Sara’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge. This is the one year anniversary of Presto Pasta Night (“Congratulations, Ruth!”) and this month’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge theme is All Things Nigella and I am all about Nigella. So, this needed to be good, really good.
And it was.
Thumbing through How To Eat, I found a recipe for Butternut Squash and Pasta Soup. Wow, what a good idea! Beauty and brains, just like my wife.
Her recipe calls for a soup pasta, like ditalini – which makes sense, I mean, it’s a soup. At the store while I was looking for ditalini, I came across a pasta I had never seen before. It’s a tiny, cheese-filled ravioli called, not surprisingly, ravioletti. I thought, “Hey, that’s gonna be great in this soup!”, so, I bought.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND PASTA SOUP
1/2 Tbls. Olive Oil
1/2 Small Onion, minced
8 ounces of Butternut Squash, 1/2 inch dice
1/4 cup of White Wine
2 1/2 cups Vegetable Stock
1 Bay Leaf
2 ounces of Ravioletti
Put the oil in a biggish, heavy-bottomed pan on the stove and when hot add the onion. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring regularly, until soft, then add the cubes of butternut and turn well in the pan for 2 minutes. Pour in the wine, let it bubble up, then add the stock and the bay leaf. Bring to a simmering point, then leave to simmer away for about 10 minutes. Take out a ladleful, purée it, then put it back in the pan. Turn up the heat and add the ravioletti. Cook for about 15 minutes until the pasta is cooked, then taste for salt. Ladle this thick, sweet stew of a soup into your bowl.
The original recipe calls for grated Parmesan on the soup, but the cheese in the ravioletti is enough and it didn’t need the grated cheese.
I made my favorite Moosewood Veggie Stock for this and it was a good as always. The final product was very good, a little sweeter than I expected, though that was balanced pretty well by the cheese in the pasta. Maybe a touch of heavy cream wouldn’t be bad, either and hey, a little bit of fat is always good!
Sometimes, you’ve just gotta keep it real. What I mean by that, is you have to once in a while not go for the special thing, the different, the “Wow!”. And on Presto Pasta Night, that might just mean Spaghetti and Meatballs.
Who didn’t love spaghetti and meatballs as a kid? You show me a kid who didn’t love spaghetti & meatballs and I’ll show you an unhappy kid or one with amnesia. Or gluten intollerant.
My meatball recipe comes for the gentlemen at the Pacific Street Social Club in Brooklyn, NY. I saw these gents cooking on Sara Moulton’s BEST show (IMHO), her later night Cooking Live show. Watching these guys drinking wine, helping Sara make the Sunday gravy, meatballs and braciole – I knew I had found something special.
Pacific Street Social Club Meatballs
· 1 cup cubed stale bread (as from an Italian loaf)
· Milk for soaking the bread
· 1 pound lean ground beef, such as sirloin
· 3 cloves garlic, minced
· 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves (I use 1/4 cup)
· 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese (I use Parmesan)
· 2 large eggs
· Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a small bowl, combine the bread with enough milk to just cover and let the bread soak for 10 minutes. Squeeze dry and chop fine.
In a bowl, combine the bread with the meat, garlic, parsley, Romano or Parmesan cheese, eggs, and salt and pepper to taste. Form into 12 to 14 meatballs, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, and chill until ready to cook.
The original recipe says to brown the meatballs in olive oil and then finish cooking in homemade red sauce (Sunday Gravy). Instead, I always cook in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, they never fall apart on me that way.
I made a simple red sauce with sauteed onions, a 28oz can of whole tomatoes (no citric acid, please!) and basil. I served the sauce and meatballs with freshly grated Parmesan. Presto – instant childhood.
Well, I have a new look and my first real post is a Presto Pasta Night. I decided I would make something a little different and for that, I went to Mario’s cookbook – Simple Italian Food. Flipping through the pasta section, I came across his gnocchi recipes. Presto!
In a Karmic conflagration, that weekend I watched Lydia’s Italy and Holy Basil, Batman, she was doing gnocchi. So, tonight, I did gnocchi – what else could I do?
Roasted Pepper Gnocchi
1 pound of russet potatoes
2 medium bell peppers, roasted
1 cup all purpose flour
1 extra-large (I used large) egg
1 teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan, boil the potatoes until they are soft, about 45 minutes. While still warm, peel and pass through a vegetable mill or ricer onto a clean pasta board. (I peeled the potatoes, cut them into large chunks and boiled them until soft. I drained them and put them through a ricer.) Place the chopped peppers in a towel and wring to extract as much liquid as possible.
Make a well in the center of the potatoes and sprinkle all over with the flour, using all the flour (Have no fear, I needed about ½ cup more than this.) Place the egg, salt and pepper in the center of the well, and using a fork, stir into the flour and potatoes, just like making pasta. Once the egg and roasted peppers are mixed in, bring the dough together, kneading gently until ball is formed, Knead gently another 4 minutes until the ball is dry to the touch. (This is where that extra flour came in)
Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add about 2 Tbls. of salt.
Divide the dough into 4 balls. Flour the board and roll each ball into a 1-inch thick rope. Cut the rope into 1-inch long pieces and let the pieces dry slightly before shaping. Roll pieces down the tines of a fork to establish the classic shape. Drop gnocchi, 10-15 at a time, into boiling water and cook until they float to the surface.
I then tossed some with a tomato sauce and some in butter – they were both great!