Thursday, January 19, 2012

Macaroni & Cheese with Mushrooms & Chard

Today I want to talk about plans, and how we have a tendency to get all hoity-toity about our goals and loudly broadcast our epiphanies and then -- as if to prove who's really in charge -- the universe makes us topple.

That's how it's been around here for the past couple of weeks: Challenging. So challenging that if you pressed me, I might say it's March but when I check the calendar it turns out that nope, we're just past the middle of January.

I've been hiding from the world a bit, escaping into Mad Men (can you believe I never caught that bug before?), reading (The Sense of an Ending, Foreign Bodies, The Lonely Polygamist, Just Kids, and now, Coming to My Senses), and knitting. There has been lots and lots of knitting. I'd forgotten how much I love the rhythmic click of the needles and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from simply finishing another row.

There was also this macaroni and cheese. Remember way back at the beginning of the month when I vowed we were going to eat healthy: Less meat and less wine? Well, it's worked, more or less, with the exception of a tiny stand-off about macaroni and cheese.

"There isn't meat in it," Sean said. He's right, of course, even though I'm thinking, "It certainly isn't healthy!" And truth be told I don't really love macaroni and cheese -- even homemade -- and I certainly never crave it. But he had a small fever and was home from work for the day and so I made it, wilted greens, dehydrated mushrooms, bechamel sauce and all, and you know, it was good.

But what I'll remember more than the crispy breadcrumb topping, or how it paired so perfectly with a tiny glass of crisp French Chardonnay, is taking photos of my just-out-of-the-oven casserole.

"That photo is terrible!" you think. And you're right. But what's a girl to do? She has this heavy dish full of steaming pasta and she can hear her new husband on the phone receiving some very bad news. She doesn't know if she should go sit beside him and grab his hand, or leave him for a moment to process what might be happen next.

So she turns on every light in the house, as bright as they can get. And she takes photo after terrible photo of the macaroni. Close up. Far away. On the floor, on the table, on a bright dishtowel that has a cheerfulness that mocks the gravity of the situation. Each photo is worse than the one before, the shadows darker, the light alternately sickly green or stark florescent. But it feels oddly apt to be documenting -- even in a very small way -- the exact moment when everything started to change. And when the phone was finally hung up, there was nothing to do but eat.

Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Chard
Adapted from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook
3/4 lb. chard, stems cut from leaves (about 5 1/2 cups) -- original recipe calls for kale, so you know
8 ounces elbow macaroni
1/2 ounce (1/2 cup) dried porcini mushrooms, rinsed
3 tablespoons olive oik
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 pound crimini mushrooms, halved and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon sage
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the chard for 5-7 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chard to a colander, but keep the pot of water boiling. Run the chard under cold water to stop the cooking, and then drain and squeeze out any liquid. Coarsely chop and set aside.
Add the macaroni to the boiling chard cooking water and cook according to package directions. Drain.
In a small bowl, combine the dried porcini with 1 cup warm water. Let stand until the mushrooms have softened, about 20 minutes. With your fingers, lift the mushrooms from their soaking liquid, leaving the grit behind. Line a fine mesh sieve with paper towels, a coffee filter, or cheesecloth. Pour the mushroom soaking liquid through the sieve into a bowl. Reserve the liquid. Coarsely chop the mushrooms.
Preheat oven to 325F.
In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, thyme, and sage and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have wilted and released their juices, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Add the mushroom soaking liquid, milk, paprika, and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until melted. Add the macaroni and chard, and toss to coat.
Transfer pasta to a 9x13 dish or spoon into individual ramekins.
In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the panko and toss to coat. Scatter the butter crumbs over the mac and cheese. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the top is crunchy and golden brown.


Dana V said...

oh dear, I'm sorry for the very bad news. love and a deep, deep breath, D.

Ana said...

You are such great writer. I was literally transported to your home, to the hibernation of winter and could picture you, even though we've never met, turning on all the lights not only as an attempt to get a good picture but to bring some light into your night.

Anne Zimmerman said...

Thank you, Dana and Ana. You are just what I needed!

Megan Taylor said...

You are SUCH a beautiful writer, xo