Macaroni and cheese: are there any other three words that go together better? Is there any other phrase more evocative, anything else that inspires in each and every person an urgent yearning for whatever sinful, pseudo-sexual gastronomic glut the dish means to them? Tonight, to me it meant succulent, tender, mouthfuls of sweet seameats, and creamy stringy scented cheeses, and crispy crunchy crust. Paired with a sexy simple arugula salad with parmesan croutons, and dabbled with fragrant, earthy, and enlightening black truffle oil, this Sunday night dinner is elegant and hearty, soulful and seductive, and exactly the adornment our peaceful, productive weekend deserved. Welcome, Monday: we’re ready for you.
Creamy Curry Cheese and Macaroni with Langostino Tails and Black Truffle Oil
12 oz Trader Joe’s frozen langostino tails
4 oz fontina cheese
4 oz cheddar cheese
2 tbls butter, divided
1 white onion, 1/2 diced, 1/2 thinly sliced
chili curry powder
2 cups uncooked fusili pasta
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
fresh grated parmesan cheese
an excellent EVOO
a high quality white balsamic vinegar
cracked black pepper
black truffle oil, for garnish
Trader Joe’s came through: their 12 oz bag of frozen langostino tails are an excellent alternative to lobster, but more indulgent than shrimp. I’d also use crawfish tails; or Maine shrimp, since they’re so tiny and sweet, and so unlike their bigger, brinier, ubiquitous tiger cousins. See how sweet and pink and plump they are? I defrost them, rinse them, then drain them over a screen set over a bowl, to separate all the liquids from the meat.
Since I only have one suitable pan (my Ikeawok), I start with my breadcrumbs, which I can set aside for use later. I melt a tablespoon of butter of medium high heat until just turning brown…
I throw my panko breadcrumbs, about 1/2 a cup, into my hot butter, and toss in my wok…
… until all the crumbs are uniformly toasted. I remove them from the pan, setting them aside on some parchment paper, where I flavor them with salt and pepper, until I need them later.
Along with fontina cheese, I have a nice mild Wisconsin cheddar. I shred about 4 packed ounces of each onto a plate.
OK, I shred about 6 oz of each; Clayton is on the prowl, and he pinches when (he thinks) I’m not looking.
Along with grated nutmeg, simple salt and pepper, and a dash of chili curry powder, these are the spice components of my sauce. To me, the best macaroni and cheeses are the simple ones: firm pasta, flavorful cheesy sauce, and a crisp crust. The addition of too many flavors and veggies just mucks up perfection.
But the addition of 1/2 a white onion, nicely minced, is a must — shallot would do nicely, too, or garlic. In this case, we went simple…
… and sweated and softened the minced onion (about 1/2 cup) in a tablespoon of sizzling (but not browned) melted butter.
After a moment, I add a tablespoon of flour to the sizzling butter, and stir well to make a roux.
Finally, I add my cream, and bring this to a simmer to thicken. See how the butter-sauteed onions float to the top? They will be tender little bursts of flavor on the tongue later in the meal. Stir well, and thicken over medium heat. My pasta is cooking on the back burner, and will be ready in a few minutes.
Meanwhile, I throw my cheese into the sauce, and…
… I briskly whisk over medium heat to melt and blend.
I add my just slightly undercooked pasta to my cheese sauce, and blend well. I then add my drained langostino tails, mixing well, and simmering until heated through.
Finally, I spoon my sauce, seafood, and noodles into buttered 8oz ramekins. I sprinkle a healthy portion of my breadcrumbs over the top of each dish, then place in a 350° oven to bake through for 15-20 minutes.
For the last five minutes, I put a cookie sheet, lined with parchment paper, and mounded with fresh shredded parmesan cheese, into the oven to make some cheesy croutons for a simple, snappy, arugula, onion, salted kumato tomato, EVOO, and white balsamic vinegar salad to serve on the side.
Right before service, I dribble some black truffle oil, a delicious gift given to me by my close friend and superpartner, Tom, over the top of my bubbling baked crispy topped macaroni and cheese. My salad is fresh and light and sharp, topped with a wafery salty savory parmesan cracker, the perfect compliment to my rich, fragrant, slightly hot and wonderfully spiced creamy macaroni and cheese, studded as it is with sweet, briny mouthfuls of tender langostino tails, and topped with just the right buttered toast texture. Clayton and I dig in with abandon: our noses fill with the umame aroma of melting cheese, our mouths with the gooey heat of pasta cream, and our brains fire synapses hard-wired to supreme excitement and titillating pleasure. Thank you – gods of the heath, spirits of the kitchen – for introducing cheese to pasta, and letting them make their particular brand of love on the porcelain pillow of my plate: it is beautiful.