Gourmet Macaroni n’ Cheese with Pecans and Truffle Oil

This dish was a huge hit among my skeptical tasters.  The first thing you have to do is delete the memories of our childhood “Mac and Cheese” – the orange-coated pasta that came inside the blue box for about 30 cents (back then).  Yes, they’re both comfort food dishes for the Fall / Winter months.  But other than that they’re as different as an iPhone and a telegram.

Try this dish with a full-bodied wine with nice acidity – cool climate Pinot, blends from the Northern Rhone, even un-or-lightly-oaked Chardonnay from solid producers.  The pecans and truffle oil provide a great bridge to the wine, while the salty bacon plays to the wine’s fruitiness and the herbs work with the wines minerality.

Ingredients

6 Small ramekins, buttered and set aside 2 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp Kosher salt 1 1/2 Cups heavy cream (or cut with up to 1/2 with whole milk or Half-and-Half)
8 Ozs (1/2 lbs) Penne pasta 1 Tbsp minced basil
1 Tbsp truffle oil 1/3 tsp minced thyme, plus one sprig for each ramekin
2 Tbsp shallots, minced White pepper to taste
3 – 4 Ozs Applewood smoked bacon, minced 3 Cups white, sharp cheddar, chilled and shredded
1-2 Cloves minced garlic ½ Cup pecans, chopped
2 Tbsp butter 1 Cup cheddar, chilled and shredded

Procedure

Heat oven to 350 and put on a gallon of cold water to boil.  When it reaches a rolling boil, add the 3 Tbsp salt.  Add pasta, stir, and boil for 5 – 6 minutes, then turn off heat and drain water through a colander.  Pasta will be very under-done, but don’t worry.  Drain pasta for a minute, gently shaking off excess water, turn into in a bowl and add the truffle oil.  Stir and set aside.

Heat a 4-qt stock pot over med-low heat for a couple minutes, add the butter and when melted, add the shallots and bacon and cook for 7 minutes, stirring periodically.  Add the garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Stirring constantly, add the flour and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.  While still stirring, slowly add the cream, then raise the heat until cream almost boils.  Reduce heat to low and cook another 10 minutes.

Add the basil, thyme and pepper and once combined well, add the white cheddar cheese, stirring until smooth.  Add the pasta and combine.  It will gloppy.  Don’t worry, it does that.

Distribute evenly across ramekins, top with shredded cheddar and chopped pecans and bake for 10 -15 minutes or until browned on top.  Serve with sprig of fresh thyme on top.

Pairings – For lunch, brunch or light dinners serve with a side salad dressed simply with really good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.  Add garlic crouton (drizzle sliced bread with olive oil, pinch of salt, hot oven till dried, swipe once with peeled garlic clove) and you’re happy.

“Runaway” Chicken Chowder

I’m never sure if the name for this dish refers to the chicken seeking escape from the chopping block, or the recipe’s run-away popularity.  Either way, its bright orange color (and great flavor!) has made it the traditional dish at the annual family Halloween party hosted by our friend (and club member!) Laura Nagle.

It is one of the rare dishes featuring Halloween colors that is not a contrivance, but rather a memorable dish in its own right.  In fact, at the Nagle’s annual Halloween bash, it just may be as big an attraction as the candy.  At least for some attendees  ;-)

Recommended Wine Pairings
This chowder has the sweetness of the yams, a bit of a warming kick from the peppers and the rich texture of  the chicken and hominy.  To compliment all elements, I recommend an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer (click to buy) or one featuring a nose-full of fragrance and a fuller body – a classic California Chardonnay or a rich white Rhône wine such as Viognier.

Ingredients
3 Boneless chicken breasts
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Med onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 or 2 Large golden yams,  peeled and sliced thin (2-3 millimeters)
4 1/2 Cups Chicken stock or broth
1-2 Serranno peppers seeded and minced
1/2 tsp Ground coriander
2-3 tsp Ground cumin
2 Cans golden hominy (16-Ozs), drained
2/3 Cups fresh cilantro
Toasted Black sesame seeds or toasted Rye bread croutons for garnish (optional)
Sour Cream for garnish

Procedure
Remove the skin and fat from the chicken and cut into 3/4 inch cubes.

Over high heat, melt butter in stock pot or large sauce pan and stir-fry chicken, stirring constantly, just until no longer pink. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside to drain.

Add onion and potato slices to pan with 4 1/2 cups of stock. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until veggies are soft, about 20 minutes. Add the peppers, coriander and cumin and blend in the pot with a stick blender, or in batches in food processor or blender. Whatever your blending tool of choice, continue until smooth.

Return all ingredients to the pot and add the chicken and the hominy. This chowder can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for up to two days.  Also freezes well.  When ready to serve, simply heat, top with cilantro leaves and garnish with sour cream, if desired.

Serving Ideas
This chowder is welcome throughout the cold winter months. But to leverage the Halloween theme (for which this orange soup is ideal!) sprinkle with black sesame seeds or croutons made from dark rye bread.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant