Monday, 8 November 2010

Throwdown! Battle: Mac and Cheese

Look, you move into my neighbourhood, you take your chances. Sure I'll be all nice in the beginning, bake you cookies, share my bread and my wine.. generally lull you into a feeling of some sort of comfort.
But don't get too sure of yourself. This mild-mannered, wine-soaked, bread-baking, puppy-loving, book-reviewing gal-next-door might just challenge you to a Throwdown!

Yep, I'm reading Bobby Flay's book by the same name, the one from the show - you know, where he walks in and challenges local top cooks to a throwdown of their signature dish. And it has me thinking - that neighbour of mine has had it too good for too long - it's time to up the ante a bit. It's time for a Throwdown!

More Than 100 Recipes from Food Network's Ultimate Cooking Challenge
by Bobby Flay, Stephanie Banyas and Miriam Garron
Hardcover, 272 pages

Now, I am a nice gal, even when preparing for battle, so I let my neighbour choose the dish. Very quickly she came up with mac and cheese. Seems she has a secret family recipe. Heck, I even lent her a casserole dish. Hmm, I wonder if I'll ever get that back?
Hers is smooth and cheesy - what kinds of cheese? All of them, she says. Hmmm.. I wonder if it is similar to Delilah Winder's Seven-Cheese Mac and Cheese (also included in the book). This is going to be close!

I made Bobby's Macaroni and Cheese Carbonara. It has two of my favourite things, besides noodles and cheese of course, bacon and parsley. Okay, bacon is obvious - it's bacon! Pancetta, to be exact. Italian bacon. And parsley? Adds a touch of freshness to the pot. Nice.

Bobby Flay’s
Macaroni and Cheese Carbonara (dish B)

From Bobby Flay’s Throwdown! cookbook

Serves 4

Unsalted butter, for the baking dish
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (1-inch-thick) slice pancetta, cut into small dice
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 cups whole milk, or more if needed, hot
4 large egg yolks, lightly whisked
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) freshly grated Asiago cheese, plus more for the top
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) shredded Irish white cheddar, plus more for the top
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) American cheddar, such as Goot Essa Mountain Valley, plus more for the top
1 cup (4 ounces) grated aged fontina cheese, plus more for the top
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the top
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked just under al dente
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

recipe continues below

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 10 × 10 × 2-inch baking dish and set it aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.

3. Add the garlic to the fat in the pan and cook until light golden brown, 1 minute. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the hot milk, raise the heat to high, and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the eggs until incorporated and let cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the thyme, cayenne, and all the different cheeses until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture appears too thick, add additional warm milk, 1/4 cup at a time.

4. Put the cooked macaroni in a large bowl, add the cheese sauce, reserved pancetta, and the parsley, and stir until combined. Transfer to the prepared baking dish.

5. Combine the additional 1/4 cup each fontina, cheddar, Asiago, and Parmesan in a bowl, and sprinkle evenly over the top. Bake until the dish is heated through and the top is a light golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Excerpted from Bobby Flay's Throwdown! by Bobby Flay Copyright © 2010 by Bobby Flay. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Of course for our Battle Mac and Cheese we had to have judges. The intrepid neighbour snagged a friend from work and her new beau. There's nothing like having new guests at your home and feeding them mac and cheese. Two pots of it! The wine was flowing, much chatter and laughter, and some serious pasta eating.

But there is a serious side to a Throwdown, the judging. I devised these highly sophisticated booklets for the judges to tally the results in secrecy. A hush came over the crowds. Some of us grabbed our glasses for comfort. Who would be the winner of the throwdown?

In the categories of Creamy, Cheesy and Yummy... somehow we ended in a tie! They voted 7/8 and 8/7.
All is well that ends well, and we feasted on leftovers the next day.
What a fun way to spend an evening. We met new people, had the most fun we've had in a long time, and certainly ate well! I wonder who I can challenge next?

So to all you awesome chefs out there, keep doing what you do. But ask yourselves this - Are you ready for a Throwdown?