In case you weren't aware, I'm a Damn Yankee.
Fifteen years ago, when Mr. B and I moved south, I was told by a native Southerner that you're a Yankee if you come south for a visit, but if you stay, you're a Damn Yankee! Well so be it, but I'm not leaving anytime soon.
One of the first things I learned soon after I got here was that everyone had their own macaroni and cheese recipe that had most likely been around since the Civil War (which the Damn Yankees won, by the way).
Well, I didn't get handed down a Mac and Cheese recipe. The only time I had "homemade" Mac and Cheese was when my friend, Lisa, would boil some elbow macaroni and throw in some Velveeta and a little milk. Compared to the Kraft box variety served in my house, that was pretty gourmet. (No offense, Mama, but M&C wasn't your strong suit. I'd put your fried chicken up against any Southerner any day, however!)
For that reason, I will say that M&C has never been high on my list of "must have" dishes. That is until shortly after we moved to Birmingham. Someone had recommended Bottega Cafe to Mr. B and I and we tried it out one Saturday for lunch. He ordered their M&C and I had a bite. I moaned and proceeded to keep poking my fork into his lunch.
That wasn't the last time I've had it in the restaurant, but I've always wanted to make it at home. So imagine how happy I was when "Bottega Favorita" was published!
This is a bechamel based version and baked in Bottega's wood fired oven. I won't have one of those until later this Fall when the pool house is finished (more on that later) but this came out delicious anyway!
Here's the recipe:
Bottega Cafe' Macaroni and Cheese
from "Bottega Favorita.....A Southern Chef's Love Affair with Italian Food"
by Chef Frank Stitt
4 cups whole milk
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Tabasco sauce to taste
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp yellow cheddar (about 6 ounces)
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar (about 6 ounces)
1/4 cup grated grana padano (I used grated Parmesan)
1 pound penne, cooked, drained, and tossed with a little olive oil to prevent sticking
1/4 cup shredded provolone
Place an oven rack in the top position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Combine the milk, onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper in a large saucepan and bring just to a simmer over low heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by one-quarter, about 15 minutes. Strain the milk and set aside.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, reduce the heat to low, and cook, whisking constantly, for 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk. Add the Worcestershire and Tabasco, then gradually add the cheddar cheeses, whisking until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the grana padano.
Place the pasta in a large bowl and fold in the cheese sauce until incorporated. Transfer to a buttered gratin dish and top with the shredded provolone.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until bubbly and browned on top. If necessary, give the dish a good blast under the broiler to get the cheese on top a crusty golden brown.