Joan Schwartz: Macaroni & Cheese: 52 recipes from
simple to sublime
Who among us doesn't have a memory of macaroni and cheese ? It's a comfort food staple and a convenience food cliche. In her cookbook, Macaroni & Cheese: 52 recipes from simple to sublime Joan Schwartz mines the pantry and recipe files of her chef friends producing enough variations on a theme to have a new recipe every week.
Some of Schwartz's recipes are over the top. From Alex Porter at New York's Le Parker Meridien Hotel comes Chunks of Lobster Swimming in Cheesy Macaroni. Andrew Carmellini of Manhattan's Cafe Boulud submits Fontina and White Truffle Macaroni. In what I can only describe as a leap of faith -- Joseph Wrede (yes one of Food & Wine magazine's 10 best new chefs) makes Mac and Cheese with Dried Cherry Chutney and Roquefort Sauce.
While it is interesting to see how these chefs make a braver, bolder macaroni and cheese, I doubt too many home cooks want to invest in a lobster-laced casserole or spend nearly 30 minutes just making the chutney step of the recipe. Not to mention, if I'm going to have a chunk of, say, really fine Taleggio or Gorgonzola I want to enjoy it "as is" with a glass of wine -- not melted into a white sauce baked into pasta.
A few recipes make sense to me such as Rick Bayless' contribution that adds salsa and cilantro for what he calls " little edge". And Schwartz is on the right track with her international additions to the category such as Pastitsio (a Greek pasta dish with lamb and beef seasoned with cinnamon) and Noodle Kugel (a delightful dish that is both sweet and savory at the same time.) Thank goodness there's none of that healthy or low fat nonsense using fake cheese and canned evaporated skim milk.
What I found missing was a recipe for the solid staple of church suppers and family picnics. That creamy, cheesy with a hint of sharp, feels like velvet-in-the-mouth recipe. The one passed down from aunts and grandmas on a stained recipe card that sends not only cholesterol, but also a whole lot of soul coursing through your arteries. Which is what real Mac and cheese is all about and all you really need.