Cheesy Nubs Mac & Cheese

You open the fridge, rummage through the tupperware and produce drawers, thinking “I know it’s in here somewhere”. It’s going to make the perfect snack, or impromptu hors d’oeuvres. And then you find it, a little gnarled, dried out hunk of cheese that used to be beautiful and now is barely fit for consumption. We’ve all been there and it can be rough. Thankfully, there is a solution: cheesy nubs mac & cheese.

Full credit on this one goes to Anne Saxelby, of Saxelby Cheese, who posted this on her blog last year, and reminded me of it when I visited her store recently, distraught over the fate of a beautiful round of Camembert I had been saving – too long it seems – for a special occasion.

Here’s what you need:

  • Cheesy nubs! (any kind of cheese and all parts)
  • Milk or cream
  • Pasta (macaroni, farfalle, penne, etc: your choice)
  • Bread crumbs (these are optional but extremely delicious)
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta to desired mushiness and drain.

cheesy nubs

While the pasta is cooking, cut, grate or mash up your cheese. Anne says you can use all parts of the cheese but I scooped out my over-the-hill Camembert and discarded the rind. I also used bits of a washed rind tomme and a gruyere style cheese.

Butter a ceramic dish (or any kind of pan really; I used a 9 inch cake pan). You can also use other kinds of fat, such as pork, instead of butter.

Spread a layer of pasta in the pan, then top with your cheesy mash, add a splash of milk or cream, sprinkle some salt and pepper, repeat. Over the last layer sprinkle your bread crumbs and strategically place some butter/fat around.

I also added some crispy pork belly that I diced and browned in a sauté pan.

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and bubbling.  Serve immediately.  Also makes yummy leftovers!

mmm cheesy deliciousness

My macaroni turned out nice and pungent, and the pork belly added a little salt and crunch.

This recipe can easily be scaled up or down depending on how much pasta you want to make/cheese you have. I used a whole Camembert, about 1/8 lb each washed rind tomme and gruyere and 1/2 lb of pasta which yielded a not too gooey but nicely cheesy result.

Dinner for 6

I have been toying with the idea of taking some cooking classes, but each time I come close the price tag brings me up short.  I asked two chef friends of mine whether they thought school was worth it for someone who does not want to be a professional chef and just wants to learn more and improve.  Both gave me the same advice: skip school, spend the money on groceries and experiment at home.

So this past Saturday marked the first in what I hope will be a series of dinners during which I buy a lot of food and cook it for friends.  It ended up being a 3 day affair: Friday I went to the farmer’s market, looked up recipes, ruminated about which things to puree and which things to glaze, whether to make soup, what kind of wine to get; Saturday I cleaned, prepped, cooked and served; and Sunday I cleaned and made stock with the leftovers.

The Menu:

  • Celeriac, potato and leek soup
  • Individual roast Poussin with sage and lemon
  • Glazed carrots and parsnips
  • Brussel sprouts with pork belly lardons
  • Smoked Berkshire blue cheese & sliced Bosc pears

And we drank white Burgundy, red Burgundy and a Semillon from Argentina for dessert.

The Produce:

On Friday I went to the market at Blue Hill Stone Barns and stocked up on 6 little poussins (baby chickens), carrots, parsnips, celeriac, onions, leeks and pears.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

the goods

The next day I supplemented with Brussel sprouts from Essex Street Market, smoked blue cheese from Ann Saxelby and pork belly that I got from the Mecox Bay Dairy a few weeks ago.

For help in the kitchen I enlisted one of the aforementioned chef friends, Sam, and his Vita-Mix blender (an item now on my Christmas list).

The Soup:

I took as loose guidance a potato-leek soup recipe from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters.

Ingredients:

  • 5 medium sized Yukon Golds (or other yellow potato), peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium celeriac, peeled and sliced
  • 2 leeks, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • a few springs of fresh thyme
  • salt & pepper
  • some pork fat
  • 1 cup white wine

la soupe

Melt the butter in a large pot, add bay leaf, thyme, salt, pepper and the leeks.  Cook for a few minutes, then add the potatoes and celeriac.  Cook a few minutes more then add 1 cup white wine (I used the bottle I was drinking, which was from Sicily).  15 or so minutes later add the chicken stock, simmering all the while.  Since we were sauteing pork belly anyway, we threw in a little pork fat along the way as well.  When the vegetables are soft, but not totally falling apart (about 30 minutes), remove from heat and blend.  With the Vita-Mix, we put in about three cups of solids and liquid at a time, pureed, then “mounted it” (technical term, seriously) by adding a bit of olive oil or pork fat (a few tablespoons).

We finished each bowl with a little drizzle of olive oil.

The Poussin:

Drawing on an Epicurious recipe, I tied up the legs of the little chickens and stuffed butter and thyme under the skin.  We then roasted them at 375° for about an hour.  They didn’t get quite as brown and crispy as I might have liked – noted for the next time round as a “development area”….

the birds, trussed and stuffed

To finish it off, Sam drizzled each one with a little “jus” (super concentrated chicken stock) on the plate.

The Veggies:

For the Brussels sprouts, we trimmed and cut them in half, then cooked them cut side down with a little bit of olive oil in a saute pan until brown and crispy.  Before dinner we tossed with some browned pork belly and stuck them in the oven for about 10 minutes.

Since the carrots where small anyway, and so fresh, I just scrubbed them down (no peeling) and cut off the tops and any scrawny bits.  Then I cut the parsnips up into batons of commensurate size.  We cooked them separately in saute pans with a bit of chicken broth, a big pat of butter, a thyme sprig and salt.  Usually, Sam said, he would cook them under a parchment paper cut out with a whole in the middle.  Since I didn’t have any parchment paper we improvised with various pot lids.  After cooking we set them aside until a few minutes before dinner when we threw some more butter and stock in a pan, emulsified it, tossed the veggies in it and put in the serving dish.

Et voilà, dinner is served:

the plate