Saturday, September 18, 2010

I love playing with comfort food.

Everyone has those special dishes that warm both your stomach and your heart, that you just want to hug and devour at the same time. For me, one of those dishes is Mac & Cheese. I had an impulsive craving today for good ol' Mac & Cheese, but wasn't sure what I had in the house in terms of Mac or Cheese. Fingers crossed, I surmised the fridge and pantry situations; I was in luck.

Not only would I be able to throw together an impromptu pot of gushy, cheesy love, I grabbed a couple of ingredients that would stir things up, put a different spin on a familiar favorite... and away we go.

I got the pot of water going and set aside a bag of Artisan tricolor pasta shells from Italy. Meanwhile, I rendered some bacon, then added brunoise onions and garlic, finishing with a couple tablespoons of Chipotle paste my aunt and uncle had brought from Mexico when they visited. I added a little butter and some pasta water and brought it all together in a delicious, bacony sauce with a serious touch of heat. A little milk (Milk? I know, but we didn't have any cream in the house), and it was a creamy ragu-like sauce ready to cover the pasta with sexy decadence.

Next came a motley assortment of grated cheeses (a little bit of everything we had in the house), and, once that was incorporated, a few crumbles of chevre and a few of a triple cream brie-esque specimen with a rind so nice it melted in your mouth. Stirring lovingly, I watched the soft cheeses swirl into the oversized pan, languishing among the bits of bacon and draping themselves about the pasta shells. I couldn't stop drooling.

A few more seconds in the pan, and then the whole delicious lot of it into a Pyrex. I scraped every last bit of creamy, gushy goodness over the pasta and finished with a generous amount of dried Mexican queso and grated Australian Parmesan. Some garlic cracked pepper and it was into the oven at 350.

Twenty minutes later I was savoring forkfuls of perfect Mac & Cheese. The shells were al dente, each bite a gushy, squishy, cheesy, morsel from heaven. The heat from the Chipotle warmed me all over and the United Nations of cheeses were crispy on top and melty, stringy happiness throughout. The bacon added both umami and texture in addition to that perfect flavor that only bacon does. I paired with a glass of Muscat, whose cool fruitiness was the ideal companion to such spicy richness. Seconds were a must. Of everything.

It's always fun to do a fresh spin on a classic, simple plate of good, old-fashioned comfort food. Chipotle Mac 'n' Cheese with Bacon: now on file and freaking delicious.

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