My friends Stephanie Stiavetti, who writes The Culinary Life blog, and Garrett McCord, who writes the blog Vanilla Garlic, are publishing their very first book, Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, on that all-but-infallible pairing of pasta and cheese. When they asked me to write the foreword, I groaned. This is exactly the kind of cookbook we don’t need more of, I thought to myself. But then I read it, and thought this is exactly the kind of cookbook we need, this nation that has so readily accepted orange flavoring packets to stir into their food. Stephanie and Garrett attempt to raise this often thoughtlessly prepared dish to its highest possible level by asking us to take more care with it, to use excellent pasta and excellent cheese. This is not only a book filled with excellent info on cheeses and pastas and great recipes (photography is by Matt Armendariz), it’s yet another hopeful example of the way American cooks are raising the quality of the food we eat.
To promote this book, the publisher has sent me three copies to give away. All you have to do is tell me in the comments what your favorite or most exciting version of mac and cheese you’ve ever had and why it was so memorable (include a working email, obviously). Winners will be chosen at random, but I’m genuinely eager to hear what your best mac and cheese was (mine, it should be no surprise, was the lobster mac and cheese at the French Laundry in 1998).
Congrats, Stephanie and Garrett! Melt is terrific!
Pumpkin Stuffed with Fontina, Italian Sausage, and Macaroni
- 1 sugar pumpkin, or other sweet variety (not a carving pumpkin), about 5 pounds
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ pound mild Italian pork sausage
- 4 ounces elbow macaroni
- 5 ounces Fontina, cut into ¼-inch cubes
- 2 ounces Gruyère, cut into ¼-inch cubes
- 3 scallions, diced
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 cup heavy cream
Fontina is a creamy, woodsy, Alpine-style cheese . There are m any varieties of Fontina, from Swiss to Italian, with some fine specimens even coming out of Wisconsin. Each has its own unique profile, so be sure to taste them all and pick the one that you like best. Regardless of which you choose, you will get a nice semihard texture and subtle mushroomy flavor. It just so happens that Fontina pairs beautifully with the sugary flavors of a good baking pumpkin. This recipe, baked inside the pumpkin—a trick inspired by Dorie Greenspan and Ruth Reichl, both famous for their stuffed-pumpkin recipes (among other things)—simply knocked our socks off with flavor and a stylish yet homey presentation.
Although best with Fontina and a touch of Gruyère, another Alpine favorite, this recipe is flexible and can use whatever cheeses, meats, onions, or extra pasta you have on hand. Feel free to experiment. We particularly like Valley Ford’s Estero Gold or its Highway 1 Fontina, as well as Roth Käse’s MezzaLuna Fontina. If you want to try something radical, a creamy blue cheese like Buttermilk Blue or Cambozola will do nicely too.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/178°C. Cut a circle from the top of the pumpkin at a 45-degree angle, the way you would cut open a pumpkin to make a jack-o’-lantern, and set aside. Scoop out the seeds and strings as best you can. Generously salt and pepper the inside of the pumpkin, pop the top back on it, place it on a rimmed baking dish (since the pumpkin may leak or weep a bit), and bake for 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. If the sausages are in their casings, remove the meat and discard the casings. Crumble the sausage meat into small chunks and cook until lightly browned. Remove the sausage from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Discard the drippings, or save for gravy or what have you.
- Also while the pumpkin bakes, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process.
- In a bowl, toss together the Fontina, Gruyère, sausage, pasta, scallions, and herbs. Once the pumpkin is done baking, take it out of the oven and fill it with the macaroni and cheese. Pour the cream over the filling. Place the top back on the pumpkin and bake for 1 hour, taking the top off for the last 15 minutes so the cheese on top of the filling can properly brown. If the top cream still seems a bit too wobbly and liquid, give it another 10 minutes in the oven. The cream may bubble over a bit, which is fine. If the pumpkin splits while baking, as occasionally happens, be thankful you set it in a rimmed baking dish and continue to bake as normal.
- Allow the pumpkin to rest for 10 minutes before serving. Be careful moving the dish, as the pumpkin may be fragile. You can serve this dish two ways: Cut it into sections and serve them, or just scoop out the insides with scrapings of the pumpkin flesh for each serving. Either way is just dandy. Salt and pepper to taste.
Wine pairings: white Rhône Valley blends, Viognier, oaky Chardonnay, champagne
Additional pairings for the cheese: apples, toasted walnuts, toasted hazelnuts
Winners of the Melt giveaway are:
- Susan B, of New York City
- Mildhe of Texas
- Terry S., of Clinton NY
Thanks all for reading and taking the time to comment!
If you liked this post, take a look at these links:
- My past post on making pasta from scratch
- Erin Harris’s guest post on Italian Canederli with Walnut Levain.
- Check out the actual geometry of pasta shapes, you will be amazed.
- Culture magazine is a publication that focuses on the world of cheese.
© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.