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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Chive and Basil Mac & Cheese

I love mac and cheese as much as the next person (well... North American let's say) but it kind of shocks me how often some people eat this stuff.

To me (and when you look at the constituents altogether) it seems very much a rich and extravagant TREAT.  I mean it's filled with fat.  So much fat.  And let's not forget an insane amount of carbs.

Now, that said, I do love it like I say - and will make a batch of home-made mac and cheese at least three or four times a year.

More often than not, this is your traditional BAKED mac and cheese with breadcrumbs.

However, sometimes, I like a creamier texture, and instead opt for sans breadcrumbs, and just simmered on the stove-top.

As I did this go around.

So, let's get into my latest iteration of Mac & Cheese, which for this version involves pepper, chives, and basil taking centre stage.

I start, as always, by putting on a pot of water, and then getting the prep chopped and ready.

Finely chop everything.  We're not going to purée them, however, as that would make the sauce green.  (Can you tell I've done that before? heh heh heh).

So, they just get chopped finely and added (in order) to some butter and olive oil on medium low heat:

Butter and olive oil

Green Onion

Green Onion, and Garlic

Green Onion, Garlic, and Jalapeño Pepper

Once that is all added, and mixed well, bring it to a vigorous simmer on medium heat,

And then add the milk.

As regular, I'm choosing to use two kinds of milk here.  

The skim milk on its own is a tad too weak to float this sauce, and the homogenized is a tad too rich.  So we add a bit of both.

Really, it's mostly skim still.  About a cup and a half of skim, and then let that heat up for a bit before adding about a half a cup of homogenized.  The herbs (chives and basil) can go in at this point now too.

Now it's just bringing the sauce to a slow boil over medium and waiting for the sauce to change from an oily separated mess,

 to a milky consistent white.

Now you're ready to add the cheese and some pepper (I ran out of pink peppercorns, so this is a white, green, black medley sans pink).

Some of these photos were taken with my phone instead of my camera.  For that I apologize.  I wanted to charge the battery so that it would be ready for the finale.


So, stir in the cheese, and let that heat up and get incorporated.

You can add a pinch or three of cornstarch here (pre-mixed into some milk) to thicken it if you like.

Now, my experience with cheese sauces (and a lot of mixed-polarity sauces) is that it can be a little tricky to balance the oils.  This can leave your sauce NOT in solution (i.e. separated).  To get around this you just need to keep tweaking one side or the other.  So, try adding some more oil if the existing fats are not mixing well, or try adding just plain hot water if it seems too oily.  I'd say: "it's not a science, people" but it actually is.  We're trying to get non-polar (oil-based) ingredients to mix smoothly and uniformly with polar (water-based) ingredients.  And everyone knows oil and water don't mix.

So... my sauce looked a little chunky (and not in a good way) as in the melted cheese started to look all spongy and wouldn't dissolve well.  So, I figured I had added too much oil to the mix, and - sure enough - after adding a few tablespoons of hot water into the sauce, it all evened out.

Now just add your cooked noodles, 

Stir for a while, and feel free to bring the heat up to medium high to get it all toasty, and then you're done!

If you're looking for the more traditional baked mac & cheese, stir in some breadcrumbs, and then pour the whole thing into a large casserole dish or baking pan, sprinkle a bit more cheese and breadcrumbs on top, and then bake for at least a half hour at 375° or higher.

I saved a couple of small Basil tops for garnish:

And then plated the pasta.

It was very delicious.  Extremely velvety and creamy, without being overly rich.  The jalapeño is actually delightfully subtle in this recipe.  What you taste most is cheese overtones, with hints of basil and chive, along with a pleasant overall heat from the pepper.