mac and cheese, louise

January 5th, 2007

Ever get an idea that sounds really interesting in theory but turns out to be, well, a bit strange in practice? I like to expand my ideas about foods that complement each other by trying new combinations, often using whatever fresh produce I have in the fridge. That’s what I tried to do when I prepared my version of macaroni and cheese for the Mac and Cheese Off. The idea was intriguing, the results—less so.

A bag of Italian faro (spelt) penne caught my eye while browsing around my local gourmet shop. The pasta was a light brown color, and one of the store employees said it had a nutty flavor. “Hmmm,” I thought. “This could be an interesting base for my mac and cheese.” Think bechamel with nutmeg on a nutty pasta. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I bought a half gallon of whole milk and a tub of terrific French butter. My refrigerator was already stocked with an array of cheeses, so I was all set for the mac and cheese challenge.

I cooked a simple bechamel, and grated copious amounts of cheese: grana padana, raw milk cheddar, petite basque, and manchego. As I prefer creamy stovetop mac and cheese, I poured the bechamel over the pre-cooked pasta, letting simmer. I then added washed and drained baby bok choy leaves and the mix of grated cheeses.

The bok choy, pasta, and cheese sauce were tasty. Jut not all together. I rather like the idea of bok choy in a creamy cheese sauce. But the spelt pasta was all wrong. Spelt pasta is indeed nutty, but also very slightly bitter, like the aftertaste you get when you eat wheat germ. This flavor clashes harshly with the cheese sauce, throwing off the entire dish. Each ingredient sings a different tune and the result is like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, La Marseillaise, and God Save the Queen at the same time. Worse, the pasta was the wrong size, a factor I should have anticipated. Penne is fine for baking in a cheese sauce, but it doesn’t work very well in a creamy cheese sauce on the stove. I had wanted the cheese sauce to envelope the pasta in its creaminess. This doesn’t happen with penne. The cheese sauce sort of stuck to the penne in an eery looking glaze (see photo).

Oh well. I still think bok choy with mac and cheese is an interesting idea. I’ll have to try again, only this time with actual macaroni.

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