Thursday, October 16, 2008

Last weekend, Trevor and I were invited to a BBQ at our friends Rachel and Alvaro's house. They were grilling up plenty of delicious meats, Argentinian-style -- pork ribs, pork shoulder, whole chickens. I wanted to bring a side dish that would complement such yummy, comforting, homestyle cooking.

I settled on macaroni and cheese. What better comfort food is there? But I wanted to feature some flavors of Autumn, so I put a little spin on it. After perusing the internets for a bit of inspiration, I came up with...

Creamy Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Apples and Cinnamon

Disturbingly addictive, and quite like a teenage favorite of mine -- apple pie with melted cheese. I was very pleased, as the baking dish was clean when I left the party!

8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp fine grain sea salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese (preferably yellow), grated and divided
1 large apple (preferably Fuji), diced
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste

Note: I find that the cayenne is a very important element, as its heat balances the sweetness of the apple/cinnamon combination. If you must omit it, I recommend adding a little less cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish.

Boil enough water to boil macaroni. Add sea salt to taste and macaroni. Cook to al dente. Drain pasta, but do not rinse, and set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour, one tablespoon at a time. Immediately add milk, whisking constantly to break up lumps, and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Sauce should begin to thicken at this point, but if not simmer a bit longer, whisking often, until sauce thickens. Add sea salt, pepper, and 2 cups of grated cheese. Stir until cheese is melted. Remove from heat and mix in macaroni, apples, cinnamon, and cayenne. Pour mixture into baking dish, pat down evenly with spoon, and sprinkle remaining cheese evenly on top.

Bake 15-20 minutes, uncovered, or until bubbly and top begins to brown. Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving.

I just made this again tonight for my honey because he couldn't get enough of it at the BBQ, but I healthed it up with whole wheat penne and the addition of a side of beautiful red chard from the farmer's market, sauteed simply in olive oil with freshly ground black pepper. Perfect!

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