Over the past couple of weeks I’ve received a number of requests for a new mac ‘n cheese recipe, something different. I had to think on this for a while, I mean c’mon, it’s mac ‘n cheese… what hasn’t already been done? This dish has been an American staple at dinner tables for the last 70 years! I kept my ideas on the shelf while I worked on other projects, but every now and again I pulled them back down, dusted them off and tried to figure out what I could do that would be unique, but still delicious. One thought that kept creeping back into my head was pizza, and more specifically, margherita pizza… but there’s nothing special about that, right? Nearly everybody has some sort of a pizza mac recipe. That’s when it hit me. Everybody has a pizza mac recipe, but it’s just mac ‘n cheese with pizza toppings mixed in. Where’s the crust!?
So, at long last, here is my own original Margherita Pizza Mac ‘n Cheese recipe, along with wine pairings. Enjoy!
6tbsp Unsalted Butter
1/3c All Purpose Flour
1c Heavy Cream
2c Whole Milk
1tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 Loaf of Italian Bread, cut off the crust and cube approximately 1″x1″
4tbsp Unsalted Butter, melted
1tsp Ground Black Pepper
1tsp Garlic Powder
Ingredients (everything else):
1lb Pasta (I used Spirals No.38)
2c Fresh Diced Plum Tomato
1c Fresh Chopped Basil
1tsp Ground Black Pepper
1tsp Dried Oregano
1tsp Garlic Powder
1c Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
1c Grated Parmesan Cheese
1c Whole Milk Mozzarella, cubed
Heat oven to 350F
Ok, so first thing is to get started on the béchamel. One quick note, I strongly recommend using a non-stick pot for this, as the roux could stick to the bottom of a stainless pot and burn. Melt your butter at medium-high heat in a medium sauce pot and add your flour. Cook for two minutes, stirring continuously. The roux should be a light caramel color. Add the heavy cream, whole milk, salt and pepper. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, stirring continuously to fully blend the ingredients. Boil for three minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for ten minutes, stirring periodically. Remove from heat and set aside at room temperature.
Boil your pasta in salted water, cooking for one minute less than the instructions recommend.
In a large bowl combine your drained pasta, béchamel, diced plum tomato, chopped basil, shredded mozzarella, grated parmesan, salt, pepper, garlic powder and dried oregano. Stir until well integrated then pour into a baking pan (I used a medium sized aluminum lasagna pan because my 9×13’s were too shallow). Set aside and allow to rest for a bit before putting in the oven.
In a separate bowl toss your cubed bread with the salt, pepper, garlic powder and melted butter until evenly coated. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
At the same time you put your seasoned croutons on the oven, cover the mac ‘n cheese with foil and place in the oven, also for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes remove the croutons and mac ‘n cheese from the oven. Add the croutons to the mac and stir everything together. Evenly spread the cubed mozzarella over the mac, there will be gaps, the cheese isn’t mean to cover the top entirely. Increase the oven temperature to 400F. Bake the mac ‘n cheese uncovered for an additional 20 minutes, the top should begin to slightly brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for five minutes before serving.
So let’s talk wine pairings. In my opinion it’s obvious that you need to go Italian here, I mean we’re talking about margherita pizza mac ‘n cheese for crying out loud! You definitely don’t need to go with anything too complex or expensive… It’s a simple straightforward dish, which calls for simple straightforward wines.
Locations Italy by Dave Phinney, Italy – Dave Phinney is the owner and winemaker of one of California’s truly iconic wineries, Orin Swift Cellars. In recent years Dave has broadened his horizons outside of California, making wines like Shatter (in collaboration with Joel Gott) and D66 from the Roussillon, and now his Locations label. The idea behind Locations was to create wines that are not constrained by appellation. Instead, Dave sources fruit from some of the top vineyards in different regions of that country to produce a truly extraordinary wine. In this first rendition of Locations Italy the blend is Primitivo, Negro Amaro, Nero d’Avola and Barbera taken from top vineyards in Sicily, Puglia and Piemonte. On the palate the wine is moderately straightforward, with notes of dark cherry, raspberry, dried basil, subtle oak and pantry spice balanced by subtle acidity and silky tannins. This is truly a beautiful and unique blend, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Case production of this wine is pretty substantial and it can be found in most markets… Unfortunately NOT in my home state of New Jersey though, so I need to grab some whenever I head into New York. (Retail $16-20)
Tratturi Primitivo di Salento, Puglia, Italy – Primitivo is said to be the grandfather of Zinfandel. As a varietal it tends to be relatively bright and no-nonsense, and that is certainly the case with Tratturi. The wine is medium bodied with a very friendly fruit forward opening, and a slightly spicy mid palate and finish. There is not much to be said about Tratturi, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. This is one of those wines that you don’t feel the need to sit around and analyze, you just drink it, and usually lots of it! It is the ideal pizza and pasta wine, which makes it even more ideal when you’re combining pizza and pasta together! One thing to note, at this time this wine is only available in New York and New Jersey, so for those outside you’ll have to order online. There are a number of online retailers currently selling the wine, so it’s not going to be a hunt. (Retail $8-11)
Podere la Berta Sangiovese di Romagna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy – This is the second appearance this wine is making on the site, which should say something. The La Berta estate was recently purchased by the Poggiali family of Felsina and Castello di Farnetella fame in Tuscany. The family’s roots originate in Romagna, and they’ve always wanted to have a winery there, but they specifically wanted to focus on Sangiovese, which is not the predominant red varietal of the region. But when La Berta was put up for sale, a winery that specialized in Sangiovese di Romagna as well as the white varietal Albana, it was a no brainer for the Poggialis. The wine is really an absolute steal at the price point. There are distinct notes of cherry, ripe raspberry and fennel, with very subtle tannins giving the wine a touch of backbone. It is aged entirely in stainless with allows the fruit to really shine and gives the wine a wonderful brightness. This wine is one of the few Sangiovese that can be drank without needing food, but it makes for a great food wine as well. (Retail $12-15)
So that’s it folks, that’s my show. You asked for a unique mac ‘n cheese, hopefully I delivered what you were asking for! New content will be coming up soon. In the meantime, crack open a friendly little Italian red, sit back, and relax. Life is short, enjoy it!