10.04.2012

comforting classic upgrade: lobster mac and cheese.

I finally made mac and cheese from scratch, and it was pretty much everything I'd hoped it would be and more. Okay, and I threw in some langostino, which made it pretty unbelievable. And what surprised me is how quickly it came together and how easy it is to make way in advance. We've enjoyed it for days.
I made this with my parents over the weekend for Eddie's homecoming after a business trip. He's a big fan of the mac, and I split the recipe in two; three-quarters went in a medium-sized casserole to bake that day; the remaining was divided into two gratin dishes that I baked two days later. And two days later, it actually tasted even better.

Like The BC usually does, she finds ways to make her classics explode, and by adding lobster, this dish becomes a real treat - as if the gruyere and sharp cheddar can't cut it on their own. This dish is classy enough to serve for a small dinner party with a beautiful green salad, with lots of tomatoes... because I think that mac and cheese and tomatoes were made for each other (in fact, in the original recipe, The BC tops the dish with tomatoes before baking). It would also be a wonderful gift to your friends who just had a baby, or for anyone who could use an extra hand, really.

If you're thinking that you'll never make this because of the lobster: think again. Sure, you can just leave it out. But, if you find that your local Trader Joe's is selling bags of frozen langostino meat, grab one and then make this dish. Langostino isn't exactly lobster, but it's close (here's the Wiki definition). It's actually a kind of crab meat, but looks and tastes as luxurious as lobster. If it was delicious in The BC's Lobster & Shells, and I figured it would be an excellent candidate for her Lobster Mac and Cheese.

And it was.
Follow the link for the recipe.

The BC's recipe prepares this dish in 6-to-8 small gratin dishes, which seems like a perfect way to up your dinner party game. It also makes for easy re-heating. For your average weeknight mac and cheese, you can also bake this in a casserole dish, like we did. We let it cook nice and long to get it really browned and bubbly, which is of course a matter of preference, when it comes to mac and cheese.

Last note: fresh wedges of cheese are recommended here. You don't want to use anything that comes bagged, pre-shredded. And there is something about using extra-sharp cheddar that gives such amazing depth to this dish. Go extra-sharp if you can find it.

The Barefoot Contessa's Lobster Mac and Cheese, adapted so very slightly with a few notes
Serves 8 (at least!)

Kosher salt
1 pound cavatappi (also called cellentani) or elbow pasta
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces gruyere cheese, grated (about 4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (about 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster or langostino meat
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (if I had panko, I would have used panko)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook pasta to just al dente, according to box directions. Drain and set aside. Efficiency note: if you have yet to grate the cheeses, do it while the pasta is cooking. If you have one, I recommend using a Cuisinart with the shredding disc (it's amazing).

Cut down on your dirty dishes and re-use the pasta pan to gently warm milk over medium low heat. Do not boil.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, melt 6 tablespoons of butter and add flour. Cook over low heat for two minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk (do-able by one but helpful to have an extra hand here) and cook for two more minutes, until thickened and smooth.

Off the heat, stir in the cheeses, 1 tablespoon of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the cooked pasta and lobster meat and stir well. Pour mixture into large casserole dish or divide among gratin dishes.

Melt the remaining tablespoons of butter and stir in fresh bread crumbs. Sprinkle crumbs on top of the dish and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is browned and bubbly. (Note on the crumbs: I'm not a huge fan of crumbs on my mac, so I only used about half.)

We served our lobster mac and cheese with freshly chopped chives from the garden.

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