Friday, December 16, 2016

Macaroni & Cheese with Asparagus, Ham and Stewed Tomato

     Gourmet Mac & Cheese!
     Macaroni and Cheese has to be one of the all time favorite comfort food entrées!  Macaroni and Cheese has been around for more than 500 years.  The original version involved layering butter, cheese and macaroni pasta in a casserole dish, then baking till the cheese melted.  In modern times, Macaroni and Cheese is usually made with a béchamel sauce that is enriched with cheese.
     One of the classic accompaniments for macaroni and cheese is stewed tomatoes.  The recent gourmet Macaroni and Cheese trend has opened the door for many more creative toppings.  Green vegetables, like asparagus spears are an interesting topping.
    The rule of thumb is if it tastes good with cheddar cheese, then the chances are that it will taste good in classic Macaroni and Cheese.  Classic Mac & Cheese is usually made with cheddar.  Both asparagus and ham go well with cheddar cheese.  Sharp English Cheddar or Sharp Colby Cheddar are the best choices of cheese for classic Mac & Cheese.  For a gourmet Macaroni & cheese, quality is more important than quantity, so the better the cheddar, the better the classic Mac & Cheese will be!
     Macaroni & Cheese with Asparagus and Ham:
     This recipe yields 1 hearty portion.
     Step 1:  Place a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of roux while stirring with a whisk.  (The roux should be thick and shiny, like warm peanut butter.)
     Constantly stir till the roux is a white color with very little hazelnut aroma.
     Step 2:  Add 1 2/3 cups of milk while stirring with a whisk.
     Add 1 pinch of cayenne pepper.
     Add 1 pinch of Spanish Paprika.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground anatto.
     Add sea salt and white pepper to taste.
     Bring the sauce to a gentle boil.  Stir occasionally.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce till the sauce is a medium thin consistency that can coat a spoon.  (The volume should be a little more than 1 1/3 cup.)  
     Step 4:  Add 1/2 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese, while stirring with a whisk.
     Stir till the cheese to melts into the sauce.
     Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside.
     Step 5:  Cook 1 portion of macaroni pasta in boiling water till it is al dente.
     Drain the water off of the pasta.
     Place the macaroni pasta in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/3 cup of diced ham.
     Add enough of the cheese sauce to generously coat the pasta and ham.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Step 6:  Lightly brush a single portion casserole dish with melted butter.
     Place the macaroni, ham and cheese in the casserole dish.
     Step 7:  Heat a small sauce pot of water over high heat.
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt.
     Bring the water to a boil.
     Add 7 thin asparagus spears.  (Thick asparagus spears should be peeled.)
     Blanch the asparagus for about 30 seconds.
     Step 8:  Remove the asparagus from the water.
     Arrange the asparagus spears on top of the mac & cheese, so it looks nice.  (If necessary, trim the length of each spear.)
     Step 9:  Lightly brush each asparagus spear with melted unsalted butter.
     Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of fine French bread crumbs over the casserole.
     Step 10:  Place the casserole dish on a baking pan.
     Place the pan in a 350ºF oven.
     Bake till the cheese sauce starts to bubble and a few golden highlights appear.
     *Do not let the mac & cheese brown in the oven!  Burnt cheddar cheese has an undesirable bitter flavor.  The asparagus will also dry out if it is baked for too much time.  Just bake the casserole till it gets hot and bubbly!  
     Stewed Tomato:
     This recipe yields 1 garnish portion.  (About 1/4 cup)
     The stewed tomatoes can be made while the mac & cheese bakes.
     Step 1:  Heat a small sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1/2 cup of water.
     Add 1/3 cup of coarsely chopped canned plum tomatoes and a proportion of their own juices.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 small pinch of thyme.
     Add 4 whole Italian Parsley leaves.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Step 2:  Bring the liquid to a gentle boil
     Rapidly simmer and reduce till almost all of the liquid has evaporated.
     Keep the stewed tomato warm over very low heat.

     Macaroni & Cheese with Asparagus, Ham and Stewed Tomato:
     Set the casserole dish on a doily lined serving plate.
     Place the stewed tomato on the center of the casserole.
     Garnish with an Italian Parsley sprig.

     The little bit of accompanying stewed tomato topping adds a zesty flavor.  This is a nice gourmet Macaroni & Cheese!

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