My family of origin is fond of pot-lucks. I think it goes back to church luncheons where all-you-can-eat is free as long as you bring a dish, a side, a dessert or a main that’s approved by the organizing host/hostess.
For this year’s family Easter gathering I was assigned a starchy carbohydrate. They usually give me desserts or breads because I’m a baker. But this time it was either potatoes or pasta. I chose Mac & Brie, a popular casserole I’ve made in bulk many times for a local caterer.
Unfortunately, when I went back to my recipe file, I did not find the recipe so I searched online for one that was similar. I came up with one from Casualfoodlist.com. So I did my shopping and mise-en-place prep (read the recipe and gather all ingredients in measure) before diving into making the dish.
As expected, the recipe measurements were not as accurate as I’d hoped they’d be. Sometimes I think chefs don’t give you exactness on purpose. They leave out a key item or critical step. But no matter. I have experience! And a conqueror mentality in the kitchen. The show must go on!
The first little fib was the prep time: 5 minutes. Ah, nope. Not even close. More like at least 45 minutes to cook the pasta, shred prodigious amounts of cheese and make the delicate Bechamel which serves as the basis for the whole dish.
The 25 minute cook time was also wrong. Pasta, after the water boils (5 minutes) is at least 12 minutes and then it needs to be rinsed in cool water to remove excess starch and stop the cooking process. Al dente is ideal because the baking process softens the pasta even more. You don’t want to end up with mush. 25 minutes is just to cook the pasta.
Baking the casserole for 45 minutes was not mentioned in the recipe. I guess it was a no-bake version but that wasn’t what I wanted or bargained for. This is probably my fault for skimming the recipe as something I knew. Oh well. As I said, discrepancies are to be expected.
The third complication was that I doubled the recipe to accommodate the anticipated size and appetites of the mostly young male guests. I love them all but boy can they pack away the carbs! And who doesn’t like Mac & cheese?
Finally, I also modified the type of pasta from standard grocery store elbow macaroni to a hand cut Italian, 100 percent Durham Semolina in a modified tubular shape. This is a rich, elegant and dense pasta that once you try you’ll never want to go without again.
Here’s the modified recipe in shorthand for those of you who want an level up your Mac & Cheese repertoire. This serves 8. I doubled mine.
1 pound 100% Durham Semolina tube shape or shell pasta (cook Al center, drain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking process)
In a 4 quart saucepan over medium heat, melt 3Tbsp butter and stir in 5-6 Tbsp. Flour to make a roux.
Then slowly add 21/2 cups milk , stirring continuously to make a bechamel sauce (about 5 minutes)
Stir in I Tbsp. Dijon mustard, kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.
Add 1 cup shredded Parmesan, 2 cups shredded white cheddar, 8 oz Brie (rind removed and cut into small cubes). Stir until thoroughly melted (10 minutes). If you can, avoid buying pre-shredded cheese because it’s coated with a chemical so the pieces won’t stick together. This reeks havoc in the gooey texture of a baked cheese dish.
Pour cheese mixture over cooked pasta, toss thoroughly and transfer to a 9×12 or 13 casserole dish and top with 8 oz shredded Mexican cheese.
Cook, covered in a 350 oven. And Voila! This one dish wonder is high in carbs but also provides plenty of protein. It’s great for vegetarians and goes well with a crisp green salad. You can also freeze the pre-baked casserole for up to two months. A yummy homemade side you can cook up with zero prep in about an hour.