Yes, it’s a cookbook solely devoted to the cheesy casserole we all know and love, but it’s not simply a paean to the basic elbows-and-cheddar dish in different permutations. Melt goes beyond béchamel and breadcrumbs to showcase a roster of artisan cheeses, pastas, and other quality ingredients to create macaroni and cheese meals in combinations you’ve never dreamed of, but now can’t imagine living without.
You might ask, “What the heck are smoked Idiazabal mason-jar potpies with lamb and tomato sauce?” They’re rich and hearty yet elegantly individual servings that anyone who loves to serve lasagna at a dinner party should definitely try on for size. Paneer, pineapple, and cucumber pasta salad is what you should—no, must—make for your next summer potluck, a revolutionary choice to overthrow the years-long oppression of watermelon and feta salad. You can even round out your meal with sweet rice pudding-esque orzo with ricotta and poached stone fruit. (Heck, you can have that for breakfast; I know I would.)
If you’re having difficulty finding specialty cheeses like Etorki, Brigante, or Leonora goat cheese at your local market, a comprehensive list of mail-order cheese (and pasta) resources is included at the close of the book. For those of you not inclined to order cheese over the internet and like to see what your local cheesemonger has on hand, each recipe includes alternative cheese suggestions for use in each dish, as well as wine pairings and recommendations for snacks and ingredients that can accompany the inevitable extra bits of cheese you’ve got left over: apple compote, roasted peaches, English snap peas, and more.
Since most of my comfort food cravings are satisfied with savory, umami-rich meals, I feel like Melt‘s recipe for baked penne with Garrotxa, Serrano ham, and sundried tomatoes (below) speaks to my salty soul. Garrotxa, a creamy but nutty Spanish goat cheese, is one of those wedges I’ll happily eat on its own (ok, with wine too) as dinner, but when paired with intensely flavored dried tomatoes and shreds of aged Spanish ham, it becomes even more enticing.
Penne with Garrotxa, Serrano Ham, and Sundried Tomatoes
adapted from Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord, Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Makes 2 main-dish or 4 side-dish servings
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1/2 pound (8 oz.) penne
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 oz.) unsalted butter + more for greasing the casserole dish
- 1 pound (16 oz.) Garrotxa cheese, shredded
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/2 cup (4 oz.) crème fraîche
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
- 1/3 pound (6 oz.) Serrano ham, sliced and roughly torn into shreds
Preheat the oven to 375°F and bring a 4-quart pot filled with water to a boil. Add the salt to the boiling water, then stir in the pasta.
Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain and reserve.
Butter an 8-inch square or other approximately 2-qt. casserole dish.
Heat the remaining tablespoon butter, cheese, milk, and crème fraîche in a large, high-sided sauté pan or deep skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring, until the cheese is mostly melted into the creamy sauce. Remove from the heat before the cheese melts completely to keep the sauce from breaking. Stir in the pepper.
Toss the reserved pasta with the sundried tomatoes and ham, then stir in the sauce.
Pour the pasta into the prepared casserole dish and bake for 15-20 minutes until bubbly and golden brown. Serve immediately.
Alternative cheeses: Ibores, Twig Farm Goat Tomme, Bardwell Farm’s Equinox