Mac and Cheese With Brie and Gruyere
After two failed attempts (one by me and one by The Humbolt Fog) to produce a healthy and tasty version of mac and cheese, one might consider throwing in the proverbial dishtowel. I mean, Mac and Cheese isn't called "comfort food" because it's good for you. However, I love a challenge and when I stumbled upon a recipe for Creamy Rigatoni with Gruyere and Brie in Cooking Light magazine, I just had to give it a go.
The September issue of the magazine had an entire section devoted to mac and cheese called "Mac 'n Cheese basics" and expounded on the subject in great detail. Here's a little sampler of some of the sage advice, "Start with a slurry. Heavy sauces are often based on a roux made of butter and flour. But our recipes use butter judiciously in order to keep saturated fat in check. That's why our cheese sauces start by combining flour with a small amount of milk, a mixture known as a slurry. Be sure to stir it with a whisk until smooth - lumps are your enemy."
So let's start with the slurry. I did as suggested and combined the flour and 1/2 cup of 2% reduced-fat milk in a saucepan over medium heat. And guess what happened? Lump city. Here's hoping you've got some forearm strength because you're gonna need it. Start doing some push ups now and maybe in a month you'll be ready to attempt this recipe. I had to whisk that slurry like a lasso slingin' cowboy at a rodeo to get it nice and smooth. Even after I added in the rest of the milk and brought it to a boil, I was instructed to "stir constantly!" I stirred. I stirred, whisked and stirred as if the very life of this mac and cheese depended on it. Maybe it was the slow burning ache in my arm, but it seemed to take forever to get this slurry to thicken up. I wasn't watching the clock but it felt like at least 25-30 minutes had elapsed. Next step was to take the slurry off the stove and let it cool to 155 degrees before adding in the cheese. I whipped out my handy candy thermometer, which I haven't used since I made lollypops in 1995, and plunked it in the slurry until it crawled up to the aforementioned temp. Time for the cheese! Dumping in 1 1/2 cups of shredded Gruyere and 3 ounces of Brie I was instructed, once again, to "stir until smooth." Here's where I detected a wrinkle in the recipe. I stirred and stirred (again with the incessant stirring) and the cheese just wasn't melting. I had to get the whisk out AGAIN and beat the living daylights out of the cheese sauce to get it blob-free. I think 155 was too cool for this sauce's school. I say, just dump the cheese in right after you take the slurry off the heat. Why wait?
This recipe had two options. Serve right off the stove top or throw some crumbs on top and bake. I'm sure you don't have ask which option I chose. The tricky part was, they didn't offer instructions for baking or crumbing. I had to improvise from another recipe. I mixed 1 1/2 cups of Panko breadcrumbs with 1 tablespoon of butter, tossed about a cup over the mixture and put it under the broiler first at 200 degrees and then at 400 degrees until the crumbs were browned. I should also add that these noodles were ultra al dente and there is just no way I could have served it right off the stove top.
In conclusion, was all that maniacal stirring worth it? The answer is... YES! This mac and cheese was surprisingly creamy and satisfying. The Gruyere lends a nutty flavor, while the Brie ups the silky factor. I dropped off a portion to The Humbold Fog to get her reaction and she agreed it was pretty darn good. We both felt it could use more salt as there was only 1/2 teaspoon in the sauce. The rigatoni noodles provided plenty of tunnels for the cheese and crumbs to congregate and lastly, the Panko bread crumbs were the piece de resistance topping off the dish with a wondrous crunch. Neither one of us could isolate the Brie but I'm confident it helped with texture. THF also thought the recipe could use more Gruyere and I wouldn't disagree. Now here's my big disclaimer, I'm going to assume, because this recipe was discovered in a magazine called "Cooking Light," this mac and cheese qualifies as lighter fare but I'm not going to suggest substituting it for carrot sticks and Diet Coke. I doubt anyone is going to lose weight eating this.