A BFBE Original Recipe: Kitchen Sink Mac and Cheese
This all started because I had a nostalgic craving for macaroni and cheese mixed with cut-up hot dogs. By the time I was finished, I had created an original recipe, which I now present to you here as Kitchen Sink Mac and Cheese.
This preparation was largely driven by what was available in my refrigerator, and, as with any Mac and Cheese recipe, you are more than welcome to take liberties with ingredients and amounts. I had put a lot of thought into what types of cheese to use, and ultimately decided on a majority of sharp cheddar, a little bit of bleu cheese to add tang, and a small mound of grated romano cheese. We had some cherry tomatoes sitting on the kitchen island that we like to snack on, and I picked out a handful of those to add a little bit of flavor and color. Then, feeling guilty about the overly indulgent aspects of a dish that involves pasta wallowing in a slurry of melted cheese, I opted to add some chopped kale to the mix, just so that I could say that it’s got a serving of vegetables in there.
Oh yes, the hot dog aspect. I didn’t have any hot dogs, but I did have some turkey kielbasa, so I took about half of a package, diced it, and folded it into the mixture just before putting the casserole into the oven.
Kitchen Sink Mac and Cheese, as with every recipe of this type, starts with a bechamel sauce, into which the cheeses are melted until you have a nice, thick, satin-smooth sauce. Toss with boiled pasta, add your supplemental ingredients, top with bread crumbs, and set into the oven for about 30 minutes.
The results of my hodgepodge approach were surprisingly tasty, and quite photogenic. The sauce was far from bland, which avoided the cardinal sin of most single-cheese preparations – the bleu cheese added sharpness, the cheddar contributed body, and the romano possessed a salty aspect that brought out the best in everything else. The rest of the ingredients presented a nice contrast of textures – kale holds up well under cooking, so it doesn’t disintegrate into nothingness like spinach and still retains some crunch, and kale’s bitterness presents a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, which were little mini-explosions of fresh tomato flavor whenever you encountered them on a fork. Plus, hey, kielbasa chunks!
Kitchen Sink Mac and Cheese
4 Tbs butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
Splash of hot sauce
4oz sharp cheddar, cubed
Small bit of bleu cheese, about 3 or 4 Tbs
1 cup grated romano cheese
16oz penne, rigatoni, or some other tube-shaped pasta
16oz kale, washed and chopped (available in bags for convenience)
8oz kielbasa, cubed
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
Bread crumbs (two slices of bread spun in a food processor)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, set out a casserole dish, and boil and drain your pasta according to the directions on the box.
Make the sauce by melting the butter in a large pot over medium heat. When the butter has fully melted, add the flour and whisk continuously. You’ll begin with a thick flour-butter paste that will loosen as it cooks. Continue to cook the roux until it toasts to a light brown color, then whisk in the milk until the sauce is smooth and uniform. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then add the cheeses, whisking until everything has melted. Splash in the hot sauce, then taste and adjust with salt, pepper, and more hot sauce.
Add the chopped kale to the sauce – it will look like a lot of kale, but it will wilt quickly as you fold it in. Once the kale has been incorporated, add the cherry tomatoes and the kielbasa, then fold in the pasta.
Turn the mixture into the casserole, then top with bread crumbs. Set the casserole dish on a cookie sheet (to catch spillage) and bake on the center rack of the oven for thirty minutes. Let sit for ten minutes before serving.