Grown-up Mac and Cheese: Sage and Ham Version

6 Oct
As you can see, it was well-liked.

As you can see, it was well-liked.

I grew up on the blue box macaroni and cheese (yes, you know the one), and at the time, I thought it was delightful. In fact, it was a sure sign of affluence in my mind when my friends had character macaroni—when the pasta was shaped like a Barbie or whatever. Those were fancy friends, and I probably should’ve done a better job keeping in contact with such rich people. However, you grow up, and as your body gets bigger, your mind gets stronger, and it’s great to learn! ‘Cause knowledge is power! Actually, those are lines from “Schoolhouse Rock,” but still applicable, as well as catchy; hopefully, your taste buds grew up when you got older, too. My mom’s dreams were realized, I believe, when I would eat fish.

Despite my obvious and impressive maturation, good ‘ol mac ‘n cheese still has a homey appeal, and its place in the American psyche will probably never change. Still, the blue box won’t cut it anymore, so it’s time for an upgrade.

I make several versions of grown-up macaroni and cheese: tomato-pea, herbs de Provence, some with white cheeses, some with orange cheese, some with soft cheese, and some with hard. If I were really a high-roller, I’d be melting things like Gouda or gruyere in here, but I’ll have to dream. If you do put some higher-end, gourmet cheeses in, leave me a comment and let me know which ones you use. And if you could, please come bring me some to try. I’m a very nice person.

~Erin

Grown-up Macaroni and Cheese: Ham and Sage

This recipe includes one my lengthier instruction sections, and a few more steps than usual. Don’t be daunted, though—as with everything else I make, there’s nothing complicated here. If you can make “blue box” macaroni and cheese, you can do this. And you’ll be very glad you did!

From “raw” to eating: 30 min., appx.

Makes: a huge bowl full, 8+ servings

Inside:

1 lb. whole-wheat macaroni

1 ½ C milk
1 small onion
1 clove garlic, smashed
6 whole cloves
1/8 t nutmeg, grated

2 T butter
2 T milk

½ lb. smoked ham, cubed
~6 mature (large) leaves fresh sage (about 1 T), chopped into ribbons or flecks
½ C shredded parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly-cracked pepper, to taste

1/3 C pre-seasoned panko bread crumbs (or make your own)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1-2 T liquid the pasta cooked in. Put macaroni in a large bowl (you’ll be cooking in this bowl.) Add ham and sage (don’t need to mix at this point). Set aside.

Poke the cloves in the onion—like studding an orange with cloves at Christmastime.

Put milk, studded onion, smashed garlic, a little salt, and some pepper in a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan on medium-low heat on a stovetop. While the milk heats up, make a roux: in the same pan you cooked the macaroni in, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to make a roux. Set aside.

When the milk just barely starts to steam, remove from heat (you don’t want to develop a skin on the milk). Remove and discard clove-onion and garlic. (Technique note: you’ve just infused the milk. This technique allows a liquid to take on flavors without retaining the things you used to flavor it (onion, garlic). You’ll recognize this technique from tea-making. Hooray, you!)

Combine roux and milk mixture. Stir to fully incorporate. Gently pour over macaroni mixture. Stir in parmesan cheese. Top with bread crumb mixture.

Cook at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes, or until set (doesn’t jiggle). Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Makes excellent, cuttable leftovers.

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3 Responses to “Grown-up Mac and Cheese: Sage and Ham Version”

  1. Kristina October 6, 2008 at 12:25 pm #

    So, I still have this site on my Reader. Looks delicious!

  2. Leslie October 6, 2008 at 12:42 pm #

    Erin…thank you so very much for your visit to my site and your comment on my Empty Pantry Chicken. The Sherry “made” the dish! Stop back by anytime.
    I love grown up Mac and Cheese. However my kids wont eat ANY mac and cheese. Yep, they are probably the only 3 and 5 year olds on the face of the earth that wont eat mac and cheese!

  3. Mandy October 7, 2008 at 10:30 pm #

    Hey lady! The mac looks luscious. I remember the blue box. It got real fancy when we would add a can of tuna, or some cut up hot dogs. Meal in a pan!

    Thank you for your comment. I concur on all points.

    I went to a “financial crisis chicken dinner” last Saturday, of which I am currently developing an article. Coming soon!

    And I actually just landed the biggest freelance writing job I’ve ever had, with a dream client. Go figure. I believe as copywriters, there will always be work because people are always starting new businesses or wanting to grow or improve what they have, and they need us to make that happen!

    xoxo

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