I’ve only had the book for a week, but every person I’ve told about it or shown it to has had the same response. It’s something like, “Oh, wow,” accompanied by a deep, long sigh. You know, the kind of sigh that is reserved for thoughts of, and longing for, comfort food.
The book is Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti & Garrett McCord, and it deserves every comfort food sigh and oh-wow that it prompts.
I mean, it’s mac and cheese. It’s the heart of the definition of comfort food. Even though most of us grew up with the fake stuff in a box or that made with cheese food, we still have a place in our hearts for the real deal.
If you don’t know what the real deal is, let me explain.
The real deal is a perfect combination of creamy and pleasantly gooey cheese with well-cooked pasta. It can be straight from the stovetop or out of the oven. Take your pick. It also goes beyond cow’s milk cheddar and Monterey jack to include blue cheese, goat and sheep’s milk cheeses.
The real deal is summed up and well defined by Melt.
Stephanie and Garrett have managed to recreate macaroni and cheese while maintaining its roots and deep traditions. I fell for it within the first few pages as they explain how so many amazing cheeses are reserved for the cheese plate or the wooden serving block, positioned next to a few grapes or figs and a glass or two of good wine. One of their goals with this book is to introduce ways to use these amazing cheeses in your cooking.
I found that goal to be a huge relief. I love cheese. I’ve taken cheese making courses and written an article on making it at home, but I still find cheese overwhelming. This is especially true considering all the cheeses I now have access to here in California, many of which are recommended in this book.
I found myself thinking – you mean it’s okay if I actually cook with these cheeses instead of reserving them for a platter of fruit and crackers?
Yes. It is. And this book will show you some the best recipes and methods for doing just that.
Melt is full of cheese education. But don’t be discouraged if you haven’t heard of the cheeses mentioned in the recipes. Each has a helpful list of alternative cheeses you can use. There are also wine and additional food pairings to help you enjoy your new cheese find even more.
Before you begin to think that this book is only pasta coated in delicious cheese and baked into a comfort-food casserole, let me share the titles of some recipes with you. There are plenty of flavorful twists on casseroles and stovetop versions, but there are also refreshing pasta salads such as Drunken Goat with Edamame, Fennel, and Rotini and side dishes like Point Reyes Original Blue with Pecans, Figs, and Shell Pasta (which will make it on our Thanksgiving table this year). There is even a dessert section with recipes like Fromage Blanc, Chevre, Peach, and Ghost Pepper Cannelloni.
Despite all those wonderful options, the Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar with Avocado, Lime, and Shell Pasta caught my attention for two reasons. First, I just got back from Seattle where I walked by the Beecher’s Handmade Cheese Shop. I reluctantly passed up their mac and cheese because I was on the mission for another food find. (Yes, I regret that decision.) Second, because I am crazy about avocados and I was completely intrigued with the idea of mixing them into a bowl of macaroni and cheese.
One taste of this dish and I was ready to grab my fork and eat it straight from the pan. It’s creamy, tangy, sweet and salty all at the same time with the prominent qualities of traditional, southern-style macaroni and cheese.
Make it. Then consider it a good indicator of what is to come when you get yourself a copy of the book. You may not have realized you needed a cookbook devoted to macaroni and cheese, but trust me, you do.
From the book:
If you ever have the opportunity to wander through the Pike Place Market, the heart of the food scene in Seattle, you’ll likely come across the Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop. Inside, you can sample their wares and watch the cheesemaking process unfold before your eyes. The proprietors serve what they call the World’s Best mac and cheese; with its jaunty kick of spice and smooth sauce, it’s definitely a contender for the title.
We love to use Beecher’s Flagship—a fierce, creamy paragon of Cheddar if ever there was one—in this avocado macaroni and cheese. The svelte texture of avocado melds so well with this sharp, tangy Cheddar. Smooth and buttery with a slight citrus tang, this jade-colored mac is a casual way to enjoy mac and cheese.
Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar with Avocado, Lime, and Shell Pasta
©2013 Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord. Reprinted with permission from Little, Brown and Company.
Serves 4 to 6
1 jalapeño pepper
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime
2 green onions, green parts only, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 ripe avocados, pits and skin removed, divided
10 ounces conchiglie or other medium shell pasta
1½ cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces Beecher’s Flagship
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Lime wedges for garnish
1. Remove the stem from the jalapeño and cut the jalapeño half. Remove the ribs and seeds—or keep them, depending on how much heat you like. Toss the jalapeño into the bowl of a food processor with the lime zest and lime juice. Add green onions, garlic, and flesh of 2 of the avocados. Blitz together into a very smooth paste.
2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and set aside.
3. To prepare the mornay sauce, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat. As soon as the milk starts to steam and tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan, turn off the heat. Place the butter in a medium saucepan and melt over medium flame. Add the flour and stir with a flat-edge wooden paddle just until the roux begins to take on a light brown color, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, about 3 minutes. Slowly add the milk and stir constantly until the sauce thickens enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon—a finger drawn along the back of the spoon should leave a clear swath. Remove from heat and stir in salt and pepper. Add cheese to sauce, stirring until completely melted. Add the avocado-onion paste and whisk together until uniform and creamy. The key word here, if you haven’t guessed, is smooth. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add the pasta and cilantro to the sauce and stir together. Dice the last avocado and toss together with the mac and cheese. Serve immediately with a splash of lime juice.
Alternative cheeses: Jasper Hill Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped, Cheddar, Shelburne Reserve
Wine pairings: Pinot Grigio, Verdelho, Godello
Additional pairings for the cheese, outside of this recipe: corn, cooked black beans, persimmons, most chili peppers, winter squashes such pumpkin or butternut
Disclosure: This book was sent to me for review purposes. I was not required to write about it and received no compensation for doing so. Thoughts are my own and this is a really great book.