Last week was my 32nd birthday, and because we had just recently spent a few weeks frolicking in an island paradise eating ourselves stupid and generally having a fantastic belated honeymoon, I decided that going out to a nice dinner on my birthday was really far from necessary. Generally for each other’s birthdays we go out to a restaurant we wouldn’t normally frequent and usually its a good excuse to go to a place we haven’t been before. This time around, doing absolutely nothing and potentially having the simplest meal imaginable (like peanut butter on toast) sounded great. This probably had a lot to do with the fact that I’m working on recovering from a sinus infection (and really, whats the point of going to Table 52 when you have a sinus infection?) But then I remembered that I’m me, and that when given the opportunity to make a to-do out of a meal, there’s no way that I’m capable of passing it up. This was also about the time where the temperature dropped 20 degrees overnight, and suddenly, it was fall. Not that I ever need an excuse to make macaroni and cheese, but the older I get, it feels more and more like something I should love a lot less than I do, and should eat almost never. Yet here we are…
Because of my deep-seeded love for macaroni and cheese, I have many variations I’ve found and saved over the years that I’ve made more than once, but I had never made truffle macaroni and cheese. Truffle oil is expensive and I sort of just automatically filed the concept of “truffle mac” into the section of my brain that assumes it’s something I won’t have unless I’m in a restaurant. But Steve graciously offered to supply me with truffle oil, so off I went to search out some recipes. I sort of ended up combining a few different ones — the main one I followed was this one — though I still did make a few changes. I lessened the overall amount of cheese a bit and used Panko instead of dealing with slices of bread. I also added fresh thyme because I have a huge mound of it growing outside that I can’t hope to use before fall really sets in and it all dies — probably more than what I wrote below, but I think 2 tablespoons is generally a good amount. I go crazy when I need to use up herbs, your mileage may vary.
A word about the truffle oil: it is expensive, and actually — the kind we ended up using was not pure truffle oil — it was simply what Steve could find nearby at the last minute. Despite not being the real deal, the flavor was quite good and I’ll definitely use the rest of it for something, though once its been used up I might buy something like this, this, or this, because Amazon does have some decent deals, but you definitely can get away with using the cheaper stuff. Most of the recipes I looked at suggesting using 3 tablespoons (!) of oil. Depending on what kind you get, I would start with 1.5 and add more as needed. Even if you add 1.5 and find it too bland, you can always add a bit more. We ended up using about 2 tablespoons.
Truffle Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted somewhat heavily from Martha Stewart’s Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
3/4 cup of Panko breadcrumbs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
5 cups of milk (I used half 2%, half whole)
1/3 cup white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons of fresh chopped thyme
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
3.5 cups (24oz) of grated sharp white cheddar
1/2 cup (8oz) grated Gruyere
Grated Pecorino Romano
1 pound of elbow macaroni
1.5 – 2 tablespoons of white truffle oil
Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter a 9×13 inch casserole dish and set aside. Place the panko in a medium bowl and put two tablespoons of the butter on top. Microwave for for a few seconds to melt the butter a bit, then mix it all up well and set aside. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and warm over low – medium heat (do not boil). Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add the flour, stirring continuously for one minute to make a roux.
Once the butter and flour are combined, slowly pour the hot milk into the pan while whisking continuously. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes nice and thick. This will take a while, at least 10 – 13 minutes, and it should coat the back of a wooden spoon easily. When the mixture is ready, remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, fresh thyme, cheddar, gruyere, and truffle oil, then set the sauce aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add macaroni. Cook for about half the amount of time suggested on the manufacturer’s directions, until the outside of the pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone. Transfer the macaroni to a colander and drain well, then stir macaroni into the reserved sauce. Pour the mixture into the buttered casserole dish, then grate some Pecorino Romano over the noodles. Scatter the breadcrumbs evenly on top and bake for 30 minutes until the crumbs are golden brown.