It was RJ the common raccoon voiced by Bruce Willis that said to his furry comrades, “We eat to live – these guys [humans] live to eat!” While this may be true for those who are fortunate enough to be free from food shortages, I learned from a conversation with my young married friends that there are two types of consumers: those that eat for the purpose of receiving proper and adequate nourishment, and those that eat for the purpose of enjoyment. From time to time I need a reminder that food is to be enjoyed and each bite relished – without worrying too much about the nutrition content or caloric intake. I need a reminder that meals are to be made because you want them – not because I’ve had too many carbs or sweets today so I should hold off until next week.
I decided to post a blog on macaroni and cheese and enjoy it over dinner without feeling guilty. The simple pleasure of enjoying the meal just for the sake of enjoyment is a task I find myself pushing aside more and more often. This is because I’m such a fitness fanatic, and I have the self-control to be on a super healthy, super lean diet for days on end while I am on a rigorous fitness program. So, to put the fork down and really taste each bite fully without worrying about making up for it later is another practice in self-control!
Of course, I couldn’t let go completely, so I decided to include kale in my macaroni and cheese recipe. This is quite a gourmet take on the classic homemade macaroni and cheese. With this method, you can choose to make a very basic and classic macaroni and cheese with just the pasta, cheese sauce, and the breadcrumbs. You can try different cheeses or dress it up by adding other ingredients. For this particular recipe, I suggest the crab, kale, and mascarpone flavor combination. But other ingredients will work just as well: lobster, ham, caramelized shallots, spinach, pancetta, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts…. the options are limitless! These add-ins give the dish new flavors and textures. I also suggest using Monterey Jack and Gruyère as the base cheeses to add body and flavor to the sauce. Mascarpone is added to accentuate the flavor. You can try different cheeses for the base, but I would suggest you avoid blue cheese because it might be too overwhelming, and mozzarella might be too stringy.
Coarse breadcrumbs are the foundation for this recipe’s irresistible crunchy topping. I haven’t had macaroni and cheese for a long time, and I am a changed woman after producing this seafood mac and cheese that made my taste buds sing with joy. With all of that said, let your taste buds enjoy! I’m here for food and it would be rude for me to deny you that much.
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups coarse breadcrumbs, lightly toasted (Store bought panko is an acceptable substitute, but don’t use fine breadcrumbs because it will turn out to be a flat, sandy topping!)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cup whole milk
Sea salt to taste
1 1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, finely grated
1/2 cup Gruyère cheese, finely grated
1/4 cup Mascarpone cheese
1 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 lb pasta of your choice
1/2 cup fresh kale
100 g lean prosciutto, thick slices
200 g cooked crab meat, diced
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic clove into a paste, and then transfer it into a small mixing bowl. Stir in the melted butter and drizzle the butter over the toasted breadcrumbs.
Add a pinch of salt and toss well to combine. Set aside.
Melt the 2 tbsp unsalted butter in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk over low heat for 3 minutes until the mixture gently bubbles and froths without coloring.
Slowly add the milk in a steady stream while whisking constantly. Be sure to whisk around the edges of the pan to get all the lumps. Whisk until the sauce is smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream (about 5 minutes).
Raise the temperature to medium heat and bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking constantly. Lower the heat until you get a gentle simmer and cook, whisking constantly, for 10 minutes.
Turn off the heat and gently whisk in the Monterey Jack, Gruyère, Mascarpone, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and mustard. Season to taste with salt. Keep warm on low heat, or by storing near the oven.
Preheat the oven to 350oF with a rack in the middle. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add your pasta and cook, stirring occasionally until al dente. I usually boil the pasta for 8 minutes, turn off the heat, and leave the pasta in the water for one more minute. Drain well and return to the pot.
Meanwhile, heat a non-stick skillet on medium heat for 30 seconds. Add the prosciutto and cook the mixture for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the kale and crab, and cook for another minute until the kale is slightly wilted. Set aside.
Add the cheese sauce mixture and the kale, prosciutto, and crab meat to the pasta and gently stir to combine. Be sure everything is evenly distributed.
Transfer the pasta mixture into individual sized baking dishes or a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Evenly scatter the breadcrumbs on top.
Bake until the top is golden, about 15 minutes, and serve immediately.