Welcome to Arbitrary Project Mac and Cheese!!! I’m really excited about this one because mac and cheese is such a favorite of mine. I love the classic dish of this, you know the one with elbow macaroni and yellow Cheddar that’s baked with the cheese layer on top; I grew up with that one. But this is a dish that really has no limit on its variations. Different types of pasta, different cheeses, meat, poultry, veggies and even seafood add-ins; the possibilities are endless. I wanted to explore some of those variations, and I plan to showcase some of them during this edition of Arbitrary Project. For the first installment, we had one that I made up. I used mushrooms and put pumpkin in the cheese sauce. The cheeses used were Pecorino Romano, Italian Fontina, and Gorgonzola. It was very tasty! And instead of elbow macaroni, I used cavatappi, which I definitely recommend using if you haven’t yet. They are little corkscrew shaped pastas, and they work beautifully in mac and cheese. This turned out well, we both really liked it. It’s definitely a spin on classic mac and cheese. It’s pretty “grown-up” flavor-wise, I’m not sure I would have liked this one as a kid. But I loved it this week! Enjoy!!
1 box cavatappi pasta
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
3 tbs butter, divided
1 tbs EVOO
2 packages of sliced shiitake mushrooms (10 oz total) – if your store doesn’t sell the presliced packages, then just stem and slice about 10 ounces of mushrooms
1 large shallot, chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, minced
A few leaves of fresh sage, chopped
2 tbs flour
2 cups whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
1/2 cup Italian Fontina cheese, shredded
1/4 cup shredded Pecorino Romano
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Put a stockpot of water on the stove to boil. Once boiling, salt generously, add pasta, and boil according to package directions. Drain when done.
Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Melt the 1 tbs butter and add 1 tbs EVOO. Add the mushrooms and black pepper, and cook until nicely browned. Add the shallots and garlic, and saute for a couple minutes until softened. Season with salt and more pepper if desired. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a medium pot over medium heat, melt the remaining 2 tbs butter. Add 2 tbs flour and whisk for one minute. Add the milk, whisking as your pour. Put the heat on medium-high and whisk continually until it thickens to a bechemel sauce. Turn the heat to low, add in the sage, nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in all the Gorgonzola, and 3/4 of the Fontina and Romano. Now stir in the pumpkin puree, and make sure it’s all well combined. Mix together the remaining Fontina and Romano in a small bowl.
Once the pasta cooks, drain it and add it to the large skillet with the mushroom mixture. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and mix all of it together. Pour the whole thing into a large 9×13 casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese mixture over the top. Add a few more grinds of black pepper to the top if desired. Broil it until the cheese melts and bubbles a little. Serve and enjoy!