Thursday, March 6, 2014
Mac & Cheese Fondue Bake
Will this winter ever let up? My goodness. I'm starting to crave spring-type foods, but with temperatures having plummeted again this week with lots of ice and snow, I can make room for one more winter comfort.
Two of my all-time favorite dishes involve a massive quantity of melted cheese: macaroni & cheese and fondue. With this dish, I brought those two favorites together.
I've been making gratins a lot lately and applied their basic principles to this dish: sautéed onion, cooked greens, béchamel and grated cheese. Mix it all together in a baking dish and its done after 15 minutes in a hot oven. Not bad.
What I didn't do this time was add a crumb top, which is a defining feature of a gratin--either that or more cheese, something that can get brown and crusty. The reason was that I was going for something soft: Chris had just had gum surgery, so this was one of our more interesting "soft food" dinners during his recovery.
Mac & Cheese Fondue Bake
8 oz. good-quality white bread (I used "pain au levain" a.k.a. sourdough), crusts removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 oz. pasta, such as conchiglie (shells)
6 oz. baby spinach
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 sweet onion, finely diced
Salt, to taste
4 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
2 cups whole milk
2 dashes ground nutmeg
Freshly ground white pepper (may substitute freshly ground black pepper)
8 oz. aged gruyère cheese, shredded
8 oz. emmentaler cheese, shredded
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and heat in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and set aside.
4. Place a steamer insert in a medium saucepan and fill with water below the level of the steamer. Bring to a gentle boil. Add spinach, cover and steam for 2 minutes. Remove spinach from saucepan and set aside to cool a bit. Squeeze excess moisture from the spinach, then transfer it to a cutting board and coarsely chop it.
5. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in the pan then add the onion and season with salt. Sauté until softened; add garlic and sauté another couple minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.
6. Add remaining 2 tbsp. butter to frying pan. When melted, add flour. Whisk constantly over medium heat until the mixture is light brown. Add wine and whisk to combine, then add the milk, whisking constantly. Season with salt, nutmeg and white pepper. Cook a couple minutes until thickened then reduce heat to medium-low. Add cheese in handfuls, whisking to combine and melt into the sauce.
6. Combine bread cubes, pasta, spinach, onion and garlic mixture and cheese sauce in a large bowl and stir until ingredients are evenly coated with sauce. Transfer to a 9 X 13 baking dish and let sit 5 minutes. Bake for 15 minutes until the mixture bubbles up on the sides. Allow to cool a few minutes before serving.