My biggest and most humiliating cooking failure occurred the one and only time I tried to make homemade macaroni and cheese. I didn't cook the roux long enough and I used only one type of cheese, which was a much too sharp white cheddar. It tasted like raw flour on top of a bitter cheese. Alicia and Marney tried to spare my feelings but neither of them could eat it.
That experience was probably 5 or 6 years ago and I've been haunted by it ever since and have never attempted it again. Until last night, when I arrived home after a 2 hour commute and decided to hibernate while the heavens dumped 8+ inches of beautiful fluffy white snow on me.
I've since learned how to properly cook a roux to make a tasty bechamel sauce. That's simply a fancy French word for the white sauce that's created when you cook butter and flour together for at least 2 minutes, then whisk in milk or stock and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
My roasted vegetable version of mac-n-cheese has 1 cup of roasted pureed squash added to the bechamel. I also added a combination of fontina, gruyere, and parmesan. I had leftover roasted broccoli, grape tomatoes, and button mushrooms that I threw in there with a half box of cooked whole wheat penne.
Continuing to use up what I had on hand, I toasted up some thick slices of whole wheat artisan bread in the oven, then blitzed them up in the food processor to make some hearty bread crumbs. These got sprinkled on top of the mac-n-cheese, then a drizzle of olive oil to help it brown, and a trip into a hot oven for 20 minutes.
This macaroni and cheese is SO GOOD. Seriously, if these photos don't make you drool on to your keyboard, there is something wrong with you! The cheese flavor is mild, the squash flavor shines through, and the occasional bite into a sweet grape tomato or earthy mushroom will keep you eating and eating till you can't stop. I'm not usually one to go for seconds, but I actually had thirds of this dish!
Roasted Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese
1/2 package whole wheat pasta (I used penne)
2 cups roasted vegetables (I used broccoli, grape tomatoes, and button mushrooms)
1 cup squash puree (I had pre-roasted and frozen my own, but you can buy frozen squash or use canned pumpkin)
2 1/2 cups shredded cheese - any combo (I used 1 1/2 cups fontina, 1/2 cup gruyere, 1/2 cup parmesan)
3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk (you could use lighter milk)
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp dried ground mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (either store bought, or homemade)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Boil pasta in accordance with package instructions. Roast your veggies and puree your squash if you haven't done so in advance. Grate your cheese.
In a medium pan, melt butter over medium high heat. Add flour and whisk together. Let it cook at least 2 minutes but don't burn it. Slowly whisk in your milk and raise the heat a little bit. Add nutmeg, mustard, salt and pepper and cook and continue whisking until sauce is thickened (it should coat a spoon).
Whisk in all your grated cheese and your pureed squash. It should be a bright orange thick sauce that tastes amazing. Add your roasted veggies and cooked pasta. Mix well.
Pour your cheesy mixture into a greased casserole dish. Top with breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil or melted butter. Bake for 20 minutes or until breadcrumbs are a toasty golden brown.
ONE YEAR AGO: Nothing, I was too busy selling Coach handbags at Macy's.