Monday, May 7, 2012

Udderly Delicious: Mac and Goat Cheese

Mac and cheese is probably the ultimate in comfort food. Warm, rich, satisfying. Nothing says "home" quite like a hot bowl of mac and cheese and, since we're still discovering the joys of our new home, it was perfect.

This is a fun recipe, full of room for experimenting and very forgiving. I use homemade pasta made with duck eggs from our flock, and three kinds of homemade goat cheese  and milk from our wonderful little goats that we're celebrating in this series.

Before I get started, I want to give a little shout out to our goats, Jenni and Josie, not just for being awesome but because of some good and bad news we received.

The bad news is that Jenni was diagnosed with CAE, or caprine arthritis encephalitis. It's a fairly common goat virus that has a variety of symptoms: if it's the encephalitic form of the virus, they usually don't make it past a few months old. With the arthritic form, they end up like Jenni: stiff legged, sore, and in pain.  Think rheumatoid arthritis.

The good news is that Josie is definitely pregnant, and probably due in July. While this is good, we're still waiting to hear back on her CAE test.  If she's positive we'll need to remove her babies from her the second they are born.  Since CAE can be transmitted through the milk, we'll need to pull the kids off immediately and bottle raise them. (As a note, there is no issues with humans consuming milk from a CAE positive goat, so even if Josie does have it there isn't an issue with us using her milk.)  Josie isn't showing any signs of CAE, so hopefully she's negative.

Due to both reasons, we're drying up both girls, so we'll be relying on frozen milk we've reserved until Josie kids in July.

Ok, back to food!

Obviously you don't need to make your own pasta. Not everyone owns a KitchenAid, let alone the pasta extruder attachment. However, if you do have it I highly recommend using it and making a full recipe of dough (3 1/2 cups of flour / 4 eggs / salt).  This makes an equivalent of one and a half pounds of pasta and was a good amount for two people with plenty of leftovers (about 9 servings, total ... 6 if you're hungry). If you don't have it, no worries!

For the cheese, use what you have. This is where this recipe shines. Did you have a wine and cheese party recently? Have a bunch of cheese leftover? This is the perfect place to use it. I use fresh chèvre (made a couple of days ago) and fresh mozzarella (made just a few minutes before I made the pasta), as well as some marinated feta from my previous post.  I've made this before with brie, gouda, and cheddar. Harder cheeses aren't perfect, but will definitely work. You can be very intentional with your cheese selection, or very random, but that's entirely up to you. I love cheese and am not usually picky, but my cheese selections for this were based off of what I made from the milk of our wonderful little goats.
  • 1 1/2 lbs. pasta, cooked
  • 8 oz. pancetta or bacon, diced (optional, see below)
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 Tbs. garlic
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 4 Tbs. flour
  • 3-4 cups milk (raw goat milk in this recipe)
  • 1 lb. cheeses (chèvre and mozzarella in this recipe)
  • topping (see recipe below)
Preheat your oven for 425 degrees F. 

First, cook your pasta. This is easy, and if anyone has a real need for it I can do post under The Basics to cover boiling pasta. I would recommend not rinsing, though, to keep some of the starches on the pasta for their thickening power.

Since I had just made the mozzarella I had a large pot of whey.  I added a few cups of water.  The best part about this was the little bits of curds that I didn't get out when I made the cheese. After draining the pasta I had little bits stuck all over. Delicious!

Put your pancetta in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Render slowly until you have about two tablespoons of fat. Add in the 2 tablespoons of butter and stir until melted. 

Make a roux by adding the flour.  I've been working on a post dedicated to roux, but the short description is a combination of equal weights of flour and fat (typically clarified butter).  Keep the stove on medium heat and whatever you do you must not stop stirring. You want to make a light roux for this recipe, so only cook it for a minute or so until the color just starts to darken a bit. Add in the onions and garlic and stir until softened. In a roux, the lipids (fats) encapsulate the flour particles. The idea is that when you mix in a liquid the flour is released and dispersed in an even pattern, creating a thicker liquid.

Pour in about half of a cup of milk and stir stir stir. Pour in the rest of the milk. Turn up the heat and bring it to a boil, then immediately drop the heat down.  You'll see it begin to thicken. 

At this point, add in your cheeses, making sure to crumble or shred anything that is in whole chunks. At this point I added the chèvre and mozzarella. (For those of you "in the know" of cheese making, you can probably tell that I overdid it while stretching the mozzarella, so it came out very hard. This was my first time doing it so I'm not beating myself up about it, but now I know!)

Now is also a good time too add some herbs. Besides the cheese, this is a great place to make this recipe your own. I added some rosemary and crushed red peppers, and a little bit of thyme and oregano. If you want to flavor it with rosemary, consider using a fresh sprig, letting it cook in the sauce for awhile, then pulling it out. (Not everyone likes to chew on pieces of whole rosemary ...) Stir the herbs in and let it cook for about 15 or so minutes. Check the consistency: if it's too thick, add a bit more milk. Too thin? Let it cook down for awhile.

Pour the sauce over the pasta in a sufficiently sized baking dish and stir it all up.

Now for the topping, which is essentially a mixture of some kind of fat, some breadcrumbs, and some more cheese.  Here's what I used:
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup mozzarella, shredded
  • 1 cup marinated feta with some oil

Combine the ingredients. If it seems too dry you can add in a bit more oil but it's not completely necessary. Some recipes I've seen call for adding melted butter.  With the amount of cheese and milk in this recipe, it really isn't necessary. Spread the topping over the pasta and sauce mixture.

Bake for about 20 minutes, uncovered, until the topping is nice and toasty looking.

For the love of cooking, let it cool. Underneath that crunchy topping is molten lava cheese and unbearable pain waiting to happen. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes. This is a dish that also makes amazing leftovers, so be sure to enjoy them within a few days.


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