Our Christmas night jam this year was somewhat epic…and I don’t use the word “epic” lightly, but thanks to Robert and Rachel, Raul, Larry and Don on guitars, incredible drumming by Gene, and Gary on the piano and his very special harmonica the night was truly spectacular. Thank you all….
We may have had a slight competition on the table between Gary’s spectacular baked beans, the main attraction for many guests every year at the party (like they come specifically for Gary’s beans) and this year, my earthy, hearty, gooey, rich truffle mac and cheese. I will say, the palate’s in the room may have put my mac and cheese on top of the taste test this year. I have posted both recipes before, but in honor of one epic night, always one of our favorites every year…here they are again. So tasty…so indulgent….so good…happy new year.
Truffle Mac and Cheese
½ stick + 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 pint whole milk (you could also use half and half for a little extra dreaminess)
12 oz. pasta (we mix shells with elbows and bow ties…any short pasta will work. You could also use whole wheat pasta for the healthier side…but does it really matter in mac and cheese)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 oz grated Gruyère cheese
8 oz grated white cheddar cheese
4 oz + 2 oz finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons truffle paste (if you can’t find truffle paste use truffle oil and 4 oz dried wild mushrooms. Re-hydrate the mushrooms in ½ cup warm water for 20 minutes until mushrooms are very moist and water is cloudy. Remove mushrooms from water (reserve water) and chop finely. Strain the water through a coffee filter. The taste isn’t quite as pronounced as the truffle paste, but the earthy flavors still come out. A bit of truffle oil will add in the distinct truffle essence.)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme – chopped
2 teaspoons fresh Italian Parsley – finely chopped
Panko breadcrumbs – if you can’t find Panko Italian style breadcrumbs will work.
Non-stick cooking spray
Salt and pepper to taste
Set a large pasta pot filled with salted water on to boil. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large pan melt the ½ stick butter and flour together to make a rue. Whisk continuously until the mixture has come together into a brownish paste. Continue whisking while adding in the milk. I have added in both warm milk and cold milk, either has worked just fine for me, so cold is fine and easier. Continue whisking until the sauce gently thickens. Add in the nutmeg, garlic, thyme, ½ of the parsley, 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper each and continue whisking.
The pasta water should be boiling by now so add about 2 tablespoons olive oil and drop the pasta. The oil will just help keep it from sticking to each other. Boil for about 10 minutes until just al dente (not quite fully cooked).
Begin slowly adding in the cheese to the sauce, little by little until all begins to melt together in to a creamy rich sauce (reserve the additional 2 oz parm cheese.) Once blended add in the truffle paste or the mushrooms and the mushroom water. If you use the mushrooms you may need to cook the sauce a bit longer to evaporate some of the water, continue whisking so the sauce won’t break.
Drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce.
Blend well and season with additional salt and pepper to your taste. In a separate dish melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and blend with ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs, the remaining parmesan cheese and parsley. Mix well.
Spray either an oven safe dish or individual ramekins with non-stick spray and load in the mac and cheese mixture. Top with the Panko mixture and a touch of olive oil on top to help them brown and bake for 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown. Serve bubbly and hot with an extra touch of truffle oil if you like.
Gary’s Baked Beans
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic – minced
2 red onions – chopped
6 jalapeno peppers – deseeded and minced
2 pounds bacon – chopped
1 can Shiner Bock beer (we also used a Sam Smith Nut Brown Ale once and it added an additional layer of richness….or you can just use a can of Budweiser…just no lite beer)
1 cup good barbecue sauce (we use Stubb’s)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
4 cans Pinto beans (you can use dried beans that you cook all day…but this is so much easier)
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and grease a medium size cast iron dutch oven (or baking dish). In a large skillet over medium heat cook the bacon until all fat has rendered and bacon is fully cooked. Drain off the fat and wrap the bacon in paper towels to absorb any remaining fat and set aside. Wipe clean the skillet and add the butter and oil. Over medium heat add the garlic, onion and jalapeno and saute until the onion is slightly softened. Add the bacon and cook together for about 10-15 minutes until the veggies are fully softened and the flavors have melded together. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. The bacon is salty, but this is the seasoning for the whole dish.
While this is cooking stir the beer, barbecue sauce, molasses and brown sugar together in a large bowl. Stir in the beans. Stir in the bacon mixture. Adjust your seasonings and pour into the dutch oven. Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until browned and bubbly on top. No need to cover while in the oven. If you are making ahead of time they can easily be reheated, but cover with a lid or foil.