Several weeks ago in this space, I wrote about the opening of American Voodoo (4655 Park Blvd.), a new Cali-Creole restaurant in University Heights. Among my favorite dishes there was their Habanero Mac-n-Cheese, which I described as “a textural playground of a dish with a deep savoriness and a hint of the habanero’s fruity spice.”
This past Saturday, I had the privilege of introducing Chef Andrew Spurgin before he spoke on “Cheese Through Time and Space, or How the Curds Always Find a Whey” at the Culinary Historians of San Diego (CHSD) debut monthly event at the new San Diego Central Library. Among the many interesting nuggets of information Spurgin offered was the 14th-century origins of mac-n-cheese.
That combined with the memory of American Voodoo's version of the dish inspired me to come up with a mac-n-cheese recipe of my own. The CHSD tasting had included a wonderful Cashel blue cheese from Tipperary in Ireland, which reminded me how much I loved good blues, so I opted for a Roquefort (which, the French lose no opportunity to remind us, is “le Roix du Fromage”).
I also knew that I wanted to riff off of American Voodoo’s Habanero version of the dish by using some of the Scotch Bonnet peppers growing in our yard. The advantage of infusing the Scotch Bonnets (some of the hottest in the world) in the milk for the Bechemel is that I was able to extract all of the wonderful flavors from the chile peppers but tame most of the heat.
Roquefort and Scotch Bonnet Mac and Cheese
4 cups milk
2-3 Scotch Bonnet (or Habanero) chile peppers
1 shallot, minced
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 nutmeg (whole)
Freshly ground pepper
3 cups good quality English-style cheddar, grated
2 cups Roquefort (or other good quality blue cheese), cut in small pieces
1 pound penne (or a combination of pastas)
Quarter cup thinly sliced prosciutto
4 basil leaves
Infuse the chile in the milk: Cut the stem from the chile peppers, slice them in rings and add two-thirds of the chiles and all the shallots to the milk in a large sauce pan. Bring the milk to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and steep for half an hour. After 10, minutes taste the milk and determine whether to add the last third of the chile peppers. Strain the milk.
Begin making the Bechemel: Melt the butter in another heavy saucepan. Add the flour, and whisk over low heat for five minutes. Do not brown. Remove from the heat. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and preheat the oven to 350° Fahrenheit.
Finish the Bechemel:Add the strained hot milk to the flour mixture, and whisk well. Freshly grate half the nutmeg into the béchamel along with the salt and pepper, and return the pan to the heat. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture thickens, 5 minutes.
Make the pasta: When the pot of water boils, add the penne and cook at a rolling boil until just tender. Drain, rinse under cold water, drain again and set aside in a large bowl.Finish the cheese sauce: While the pasta is cooking, add the cheese to the béchamel and whisk to combine. Add the sauce to the bowl of pasta. You will not likely need all the sauce, reserve any extra for another purpose. Transfer the
Plate the dish: While the mac-n-cheese is in the oven, julienne the prosciutto and basil. Ladle the mac-n-cheese into serving bowls and garnish with the prosciutto and basil.