This month’s Bon Appétit magazine, March 2011, has a cover story with lots of appeal. On the upper left are big letters that spell out everyone’s favorite comfort dish: MAC & CHEESE. “Hands down the tastiest version we’ve ever made” — the editors agreed to comment on the cover. “And other remarkably sumptuous baked pastas,” it goes on to say. Those are great headlines, I have to admit, especially because that story is mine! More than five months ago I was asked to write an article featuring baked pasta recipes. I struggled with it more than most and even complained to my best friend, pasta-maven Arthur Schwartz, that it was difficult to put a new spin on not one, but five such recipes.
The reasons were plentiful: pasta continues to absorb liquid and tends to “grow” in the dish; there can be a “sameness” about the flavors of most baked pastas, and there are far fewer recipes for baked pastas in the Italian repertoire than you would imagine except for lasagna, baked ziti and cannelloni (when was the last time you saw that on a menu?). It occurred to me that macaroni and cheese might fit the bill, and so I “amp-ed” up the classic by tossing pasta with my version of pimiento cheese!, then stirred three cheeses into its coral creaminess, and added a flourish of parmesan crumbs on top. Simply baked until the topping gets crisp and the sauce is bubbling, this slyly named Pimiento Mac & Cheese is rather good. Are you perchance thinking of making it tonight? (Recipe below). The four other featured recipes are Moroccan-Spiced Pastitsio with Lamb & Feta — perfumed with ras el hanout and dried mint; Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch; a lusty Lasagna with Turkey Sausage Bolognese, flavored with fennel seed, white wine and basil; and Tortellini Gratinati with Mushrooms & Parsnip “Bechamel.” That one may, in fact, be my favorite — flavored with fresh rosemary and grated nutmeg, I’m rather certain no one has ever made a parsnip bechamel before. The root vegetable, cooked and pureed, takes the place of the butter and flour in the classic sauce, and adds a sweet earthiness of its own. Hey, maybe the March 2011 issue should be named Buon Appetito! Enjoy!
Rozanne Gold’s Pimiento Mac & Cheese
The mix of Parmesan, cheddar, bell pepper and sweet-tangy Peppadew peppers coats the pasta perfectly — and the panko topping adds great texture.
1 large red bell pepper, 7 to 8 ounces, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3/4 cup drained Peppadew peppers in brine, 1 tablespoon brine reserved
1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chiles
1-1/4 cups packed shredded extra-sharp yellow cheddar cheese
1 packed cup shredded whole-milk mozzarella
8 ounces medium shell pasta or gemelli
Bring 1/2 cup water, bell pepper, and 1-1/2 garlic cloves to a boil in a small saucepan. Cover; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until pepper is soft, about 15 minutes. Toast panko in a skillet over medium-high heat until golden, stirring often, 5 minutes. Transfer to bowl; cool to lukewarm. Rub 1 tablespoon butter into crumbs to coat. Mix in 1/4 cup parmesan cheese. Transfer bell pepper mixture to processor. Add Peppadews and 1 tablespoon brine, 2 tablespoons butter, ground chiles, and 1/2 garlic clove. Then add cheddar and 1/4 cup parmesan. Process until sauce is smooth; season with salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8-cup baking dish, Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite. Drain; return to pot. Stir sauce and mozzarella into pasta. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta into dish. Sprinkle with crumb topping. Bake until topping is crispy and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes and serve. Serves 6