Macaroni and cheese is the one delicacy that keeps me from proclaiming myself a vegan. I classify the dish as a delicacy because I’m trying to limit intake of it. I realize there are vegan alternatives to cheese. I’ve tried them but find faux cheese unpalatable.
One of my cousins has taken me to task about the idea of eating cheese and other dairy products. Yes, I know the dairy industry is a sore spot for many people, I sympathize with the plight of dairy cattle, too. I buy dairy products that come from humanely raised animals whenever possible. After all, I’m a vegetarian for ethical reasons, I get it.
Then there is the issue of macaroni. Yes, I love to eat pasta. It’s delicious and satisfying. I keep tabs on it, though, because of middle-age spread. Mindful consumption of pasta is good. Total deprivation of the food would make life less joyful. I guess I’m just an apologetic for macaroni and cheese.
I like the fact that there are legitimate gourmet macaroni and cheese dishes served in better restaurants. The last time I visited the California Bay Area, I was tipped off to an eatery On Valencia Street just south of 18th in San Francisco, called “Mission Cheese”. While they serve sandwiches and other cheesy delights, I went there specifically for their macaroni and cheese. Their hearty pasta was coated with a combination of high-end cheeses, garnished with breadcrumbs and served piping hot in a small skillet. I thought it was heaven in a pan.
That style of mac and cheese is the benchmark I try to match when preparing the dish at home. I came close with a variation of a mac & cheese recipe I found in mom’s old green recipe card file.
Cast Iron Skillet Mac & Cheese
8 ounces (weight) of elbow macaroni
2 cups of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup of sourdough bread crumbs
1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese (not the stuff in cans)
1/2 cup of fresh green peas (optional)
12 ounces (a cup and a half) of dairy milk
4 tablespoons of melted butter
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3 level tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Lubricate a nine-inch cast iron skillet in your prefered manner.
Prepare the macaroni according to the directions of the bag, then drain and rinse.
In the skillet over medium heat, place the olive oil, sprinkle in the flour, cayenne pepper, salt, and a couple of twists from a pepper mill. Whisk to mix. Add the milk slowly and bring to a near boil while stirring. Sprinkle in the shredded cheese and whisk until everything is integrated and smooth. Pour the prepared macaroni into the skillet and stir to combine the sauce with the pasta and optional raw peas.
In a bowl, blend the sourdough crumbs and shredded parmesan. Add the melted butter then stir thoroughly to combine. Sprinkle the crumb mixture onto the coated macaroni.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble. Garnish as you like and serve immediately.
This is an ideal way to enjoy macaroni, or as the Italians call it, maccheroni.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Drew Barrymore. “I’m a carb queen. I’ll always order macaroni and cheese, but I don’t want it to be fancy. I want it to be as close to Kraft as it can possibly get.”