What a week! I love cheese and especially blue cheese, so I spent all week thinking of what indulgent, delicious thing I would make for this week's post. I considered a blue cheese souffle, a tart and a fondue, but I settled on a Gorgonzola Mac & Cheese inspired by a dish at Solstice, a local restaurant I frequent. Their mac & cheese is thick and creamy, served piping hot with "toasted walnut dust and Granny Smith apples." While I wasn't really sure how I would pulverize walnuts to a "dust," I knew the flavors of the Gorgonzola, walnuts and apples are a great combination, so I had to try my hand at making a homemade version.
This is the first week I've actually attempted to build my own recipe, rather than using a recipe from a cookbook or epicuious.com (which, BTW, is where I got my recipe last week, but forgot to mention the source) and I had a few things in mind when doing so. I wanted to make a classic mac & cheese accessorized with some culinary bling - in this case, Gorgonzola and apples. To do this, I started with an online recipe for mac & cheese that used a traditional white sauce as the base. I perused several other recipes, but I decided on the white sauce method because I didn't want to junk up my mac & cheese with sour cream, cream cheese or anything else that simpler recipes called for.
The white sauce starts with butter. Yum. After it melts in a skillet , you add an equal part of flour and let it cook until it browns. This is easy, and in fact, the whole sauce is easy, but requires a little patience while adding in the milk. The key is to whisk, whisk, whisk while slowly combining the milk with the butter and flour until all the lumps are dissolved. Add a little cheese (or a lot of cheese) and you have the 'cheese' of mac & cheese done. You can even use low-fat milk (like I did) to lighten it up a bit; there's plenty of flour in the sauce to thicken it.
My second mission for this week's post was the walnut 'dust'. The dust that tops Solstice's mac & cheese gives just a hint of nuttiness that goes well with the Gorgonzola and is a whimsical substitute for the traditional crunch of bread crumbs. In an attempt to emulate this, I toasted raw walnuts for a minute or two and then threw them into my blender. There is no 'DUST-ify' button on the blender, so I told it to CHOP for a few minutes and hoped for the best. The result was a fine crumble of walnuts, slightly coarser than 'dust' but certainly acceptable for the home cook that I am.
Lastly, the apples! This is probably my favorite part of the dish. Really cold, tart apple is a great contrast to the hot, creamy, melty Gorgonzola AND it looks pretty on top making this a super easy entertaining dish.
And so, I leave you with the recipe:
Gorgonzola Mac & Cheese
1 lb elbow pasta
1/2 cup raw walnuts
2 1/2 cups milk
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
1-1 1/2 cups mild cheddar cheese, grated
1-1 1/2 cups Gorgonzola or other blue cheese, crumbled
dash of hot sauce
salt & pepper
2 Granny Smith apples, diced finely
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place walnuts on a dry sheet pan and toast in the oven for 3 minutes. Watch the nuts carefully as they are easy to burn. In a blender or food processor, chop the walnuts to a fine 'dust'. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to boil; add pasta and cook according to the directions on the package, under cooking the pasta by 2-3 minutes. Drain and return to the pot.
In a saucepan over medium-low heat, warm milk with the bay leaves. When bubbles form at the edges of the pan, remove for heat and let bay leaves steep for 5 minutes. Do not let milk come to a boil.
In a deep skillet, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add flour and cook for 3-4 minutes, whisking constantly. Once the paste/mixture is a golden color, remove the bay leaves from the milk and add about a quarter of the milk to the skillet. Whisk thoroughly. As soon as the mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk, and continue to do so until all the milk is used and the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the cheddar, stir and remove from heat.
Add the cheese sauce, Gorgonzola crumbles, hot sauce, salt and pepper to the pasta pot and stir to incorporate. Let the pasta stand for several minutes to soak up the sauce. In the meantime, butter (6) 3-inch ramekins or (1) large casserole dish. Fill the ramekins/casserole with the mac & cheese, top with walnut "dust" and bake until hot and bubbly. Just before serving, top with chopped apples.
To see the recipe I worked from, visit Superspark: http://superspark.wordpress.com/
Of course, I'm looking forward to seeing what you made with one of my favorite ingredients and, as always, I can't wait to know what's up for next week!