Friday, August 12, 2011

Pasta So Good I Threw Out My Back

Okay that's not entirely true.  The food did not directly make me walk like a hunchback.  It was a pretty good dish though.  Definitely worth being in the rotation.

I'm sort of bedridden right now, but I'm hoping that won't affect my cooking and posting too much.  Before this started yesterday, I was watching The Rachael Ray Show as I am wont to do at 9am.  She was making French Onion Mac 'n' Cheese, and for some reason that just sounded like the best thing in the world.

I hemmed and hawed at Fresh Market because I couldn't decide whether I really wanted to make it, but it was the only thing that spoke to me.  Such is life.

I definitely didn't realize how long this would actually take me.  I suspect my onions were twice the size of Rachael's because the slicing and caramelizing were the parts that took the longest.  It's also when my back started to go Benedict Arnold on me.  Wear supportive shoes if you have massive onions.  That's not a euphemism.  Or maybe her stove is a lot more effective than mine.  Anyway, it's worth the time if you have it, but definitely start it earlier than 7pm if you want to eat at a decent hour.

Here's what you'll need:

The topping: Panko bread crumbs, olive oil, butter, Parmesan, thyme, garlic, and parsley.  The recipe uses fresh thyme, but I couldn't find any and had dried already in my spice cabinet.  Go figure.  Also, you need about 1/3 of the parsley in the picture.  That's entirely too much.  If Rachael Ray and I have one thing in common it's that we both love garlic.  The recipe calls for 4 cloves, but if you're not a garlic-lover like us, just use 2 or 3.

The French onion part: onions (duh), butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, bay leaves, beef stock (or consommé if you can find it), and white wine.  I couldn't find consommé in the stores, but the stock worked just fine.  And yeah, we buy the big bottles of pinot grigio.  Don't judge.

Glorious cheese sauce: Butter, flour, whole milk, Gruyere cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Rachael grates fresh nutmeg over the sauce, but again, I had the stuff in my spice cabinet.  Feel free to grate though because I'm sure the flavor of freshly grated nutmeg elevates the sauce.  Just don't feel like you have to do it.

Prep your topping by chopping the 1/4 cup of parsley and the garlic.  If you have fresh thyme, take it off the stem and chop it up too.  1 tbs of fresh thyme = 1 tsp of dried thyme.  Drying herbs makes them mighty potent, so you never need as much of the dried stuff.  Grate 1/2 cup of Parmesan.

Heat the olive oil and melt the butter.

Add your garlic and just let it say a nice "How do you do?" to the butter and oil.  They'll get to know each other pretty quickly.

Add 1.5 cups of Panko bread crumbs.  Panko is a Japanese bread crumb that's really light.  I suppose you could use regular bread crumbs, but I like the crispness and lightness of Panko.

Stir it all around and let the Panko toast a bit.  Just a minute or two.

Take it off the heat a minute and stir in the cheese and herbs.  Set it aside until you need it.

Have a glass of wine while you're at it.  This Ercavio tempranillo was on the dry side, but I enjoyed it.

Onion time, which is nothing like hammer time.  Thinly slice four onions.  I used Vidalias because they're naturally sweet already.

Um, that's a lot of onion.  Don't breathe on anybody the next day.  Drop the onions in a pan with melted butter and olive oil.  Add 2 bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.

Here they're getting translucent.  Give 'em a stir and let them hang out for a while.  The recipe says 25-30 minutes, but that's probably for a person who used a normal amount of onions that could fit in a normal-sized pan.

Gettin' golden.

Grate 2 cups of Gruyere for the cheese sauce.

Melt the last of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Then whisk in 2 tbs of all-purpose flour.

Let it cook for a minute to get rid of the flour-y taste.  Just don't let it brown because that's not ideal.

Stir in 2 cups of whole milk.  It looks thin now but given some time will thicken right up.

See?  It'll coat a spoon!  Season with a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Nutmeg can be strong, so I went easy and used 1/8 tsp.  Stir in the cheese, and it'll get a little thicker and rich-looking.

Deglaze your onion pan with 1/2 cup of white wine.

Then add 10 ounces of beef stock.  Rach uses a 10 oz can, but I couldn't find a 10 oz can of anything, much less consommé.  So I used a carton of resealable stock.

Stir the cheese sauce into noodles that have been cooked until almost al dente and drained.  You want the noodles a little underdone or they'll get mushy when you bake the pasta later.

Don't forget the onions!  Get them nice and mixed in too.

Spread it in a baking dish.  I greased mine just in case the noodles wanted to stick.  Just use some cooking spray and call it a day.  Sprinkle the breadcrumb topping on top and bake in a 400º oven until golden brown.

Kinda looks like I used Hipstamatic doesn't it?  Really, you can't go wrong with Gruyere, caramelized onions, and thyme.  And garlic.  Garlic is never wrong.  I'd save it for a lazy Friday night in case it takes you as long to make it as it did me.  Comfort food is never wrong...unless you don't like comfort.  And that's just silly.

French Onion Mac 'n' Cheese (serves 6-8)
adapted from Rachael Ray

1 tbs olive oil
3 tbs butter
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 c Panko bread crumbs
2 tsp dried thyme (2 tbs if using fresh)
1/4 c parsley, chopped
1/2 c Parmesan
1 tbs olive oil
3 tbs butter
4 large onions, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
1/2 c white wine
10 oz. beef stock or consummé
Cheese Sauce:
3 tbs butter
2 rounded tbs all-purpose flour
2 c whole milk
Salt and pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 c Gruyere cheese, grated

1 lb of pasta (use a short pasta like penne rigate or just plain elbow macaroni like I did)

  • For topping, heat butter and oil over medium heat in a medium sauté pan.  Add garlic and stir 2-3 minutes.  Add Panko, stir, and toast 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and add cheese and herbs.  Set aside for later use.
  • For the onions, heat butter and oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.  Let caramelize 25-30 minutes, or until golden in color.  Deglaze pan with wine and add stock/consommé.  Keep warm over low heat.
  • Boil water for pasta and preheat oven to 400º.
  • For cheese sauce, melt butter in medium saucepan.  Whisk in flour and cook about 1 minute.  Stir in milk and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Let sauce thicken until it coats the back of a spoon.  Stir in cheese until fully melted.  Reduce heat to low.
  • Undercook pasta by about 1 minute, drain, and return to pot.  Pour cheese sauce and onion over pasta and stir to mix together.  Spread evenly in a casserole dish and sprinkle breadcrumb topping over pasta.  Bake until golden brown 20-25 minutes.  Serve immediately.

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