Divine Dining: Smoked Gouda and Arugula Macaroni and Cheese
If you read that title carefully, you will no doubt find it redundant, but the cheese component of this classic macaroni dish is so important, it should be repeated. I wish I could say that comfort food for me is a nice celery stick or an apple dipped in raw, natural, no-sugar-at-all peanut butter, but, alas, comfort food for me is a heaping bowl full of homemade mac ‘n’ cheese. Like the great Julia Child said, “Everything in moderation … including moderation.”
If the idea of making your own béchamel (milk-based) cheese sauce is as scary as cuddling with a python, let me ease your fears. A béchamel sauce is really not difficult, but simply requires a tad more precision than, say, mixing together mystery highlighter-yellow cheese powder and a splash of milk. The result is infinitely more delicious, especially when made with smoked Gouda cheese and the healthy, peppery bite of fresh arugula. Go ahead, my friends, dare to face that béchamel behemoth, and whip up some homemade mac ‘n’ cheese. I promise you’ll never reach for that little blue box again.
Smoked gouda and arugula macaroni and cheese
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons salted butter
2 cups whole milk, warmed in the microwave for 1 minute
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
a pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and freshly-ground black pepper
8 ounces smoked Gouda cheese, grated
2 shallots, chopped
2 cups arugula, washed and drained
Let’s start with that gloriously silky béchamel sauce first. Heat a large saucepan on medium heat, add butter and shallots and cook until shallots are tender, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle in flour and whisk together to combine well. Continue whisking until the flour and butter mixture (called a “roux”) is smooth and turns a light brown color, about 3 minutes. Add about 1/2 cup of the warm milk, whisking well until smooth. Add the rest of the milk and continue whisking on medium heat until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat (this is very important so the sauce doesn’t separate) and add cheese, nutmeg, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste, whisking well to combine. The cheese will thicken the sauce a good deal. Nutmeg may seem like an odd choice, but it is essential in cheese sauces, especially when using greens like arugula. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente, drain, and return to the hot pot. Add arugula to the pasta pot and toss to combine. Pour cheese sauce over the pasta and arugula and stir well to combine, adjusting any seasoning as needed. This hearty pasta classic is delightful all on its own, but is equally sublime paired with grilled chicken.
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The Rev. Whitney Wilkinson is pastor of Cameron Presbyterian Church.