Monday, January 21, 2008

The 500,000 calories French Mac and Cheese!

It's cold, rainy and Winter-y, and I don't know about you but it feels like comfort food time. Especially with the recession coming up.
For some reason, in French we don't have an expression for "comfort food" at all. I'm surmising it's because in French culture food is automatically thought of as: a) good and therefore b) comforting.
There's a vague saveurs de l'enfance you see printed here and there in French food magazines when they write about such old staples as mashed potatoes or chocolate mousse, but that's it. Of course comfort food varies depending on the individual, and if you really, but really want to know, mine is very simple and somewhat healthy. I love easy vegetable soups where all the vegetables are boiled together (no stock) with a couple potatoes, then pureed with a plunger-type of mixer. As for desserts, I love stovetop rice pudding. One of these days, I promise I'll post recipes for those.

Meanwhile, there is a kind of comfort food that can be described as a French national staple, and it is, ta da! Mac and cheese! With a twist, of course! Because we're Frenchy! and chic! And we're doing a liberal use of exclamation marks!

First of all, French mac and cheese do use elbow pasta, but a different kind of elbow pasta. It's for one very small elbow pasta, and secondly it is pasta made with eggs. We call that type of pasta coquillettes, and I cannot find them here, so I regularly bring a small 250g carton when I come back from France. Also we add diced ham to the dish, and that's where I usually cry when I try to make it here. I've never, never found good ham in Los Angeles. It's always too salty, and ewwwww packed with water, and bland. If you're fortunate to go visit France one of these days, I'd recommend you stop by a good charcuterie and you ask for a few hand -sliced tranches de jambon à l’os.
Anyway, no mac & cheese is complete without the cheese, and unlike US bricked processed cheese that taste like soap, we like it with either
Comté or Beaufort cheeses. And, we cook it on the stove, not in the oven. Anyway, recipe below:

Coquillettes au jambon et au fromage, Basic Recipe for 1.

90g coquillette pasta (about 3 oz.)
1 or 2 slices of ham, diced.
90g grated
Comté or Beaufort cheese
1 pinch nutmeg
cracked pepper.
bit of butter.

You can dice the ham and grate the cheese while you boil the salted water for the pasta.
Steps are simple: dump the pasta in boiling water. When the pasta is cooked (taste it, about 5/7 minutes), drain it in a colander, dump it back in the pot with the small dab of butter, add the nutmeg, the ham, half of the cheese and stir well with a wooden spoon. Return the pot to the stove, on low heat, stir the remaining half of grated cheese and mix it well, until some luscious filament of melted cheese start to form.
Voilà! You can now dump everything in a bowl or a plate, and savor your coquillettes with some cracked pepper. Since you're a grown-up, you can have a glass of wine with it, but honestly water is much better with it.

So there are some trendy, updated versions where people add baby spinach or peas or arugula or truffles to feel more grown-up/less guilty they put something green in it, but it's not coquillettes anymore.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is funny, my husband is also french and he loves mac and cheese the way you make it...except he also adds onions mmmmm delicious! You should try that.