Truffle Mac and Cheese (in which red onions act like bacon)

This started out as a leisurely sunday activity. The goal was to make Lobster mac and cheese. After buying all the gruyere and gouda I could carry, I wandered over to the fish market to procure my lobster. I don’t know what I was thinking but at The Lobster Place, a tiny flat container of lobster meat was close to 30 dollars. I could have gone for it, but after these cheese, fresh bread and pasta this was turning into one expensive meal.

I was depressed. Ina Garten’s Lobster Mac and Cheese flashed dauntingly on my iphone.  While examining the recipe again, I thought….hmmm why not just add truffle and make truffle mac instead? Brilliant! And at no extra cost because I keep a small tub of truffle butter in my fridge at all times for you know…emergencies. I left the market a little less disappointed.

At home, I started looking for truffle mac and cheese recipes but all seemed a bit complicated and required ingredients that I didn’t have. I looked back at the lobster mac recipe and thought hmmm I just need a filler to make up for the cup of lobster meat I was too cheap to buy. The answer: caramelized red onion. So simple, so sweet and delicious and about 16 times more healthy than bacon…and sweeter too. Thus I found myself with a much improved and much less expensive version of dear Ina’s lobster mac recipe.

Truffle Mac and Cheese

(with caramelized red onions) *adapted from Ina Garten’s Lobster mac and cheese recipe

You will need:

1 medium sized red onion, peeled and chopped

1 box of cavatappi (spirals of macaroni)

1 quart of whole milk (seriously)

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter

2 tbs truffle butter (explained here)

1/2 cup flour

6 ounces gruyere cheese (grated on the large holes of your box grater)

6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese (grated on the large holes of your box grater)

6 ounces smoked gouda (grated on the large holes of your box grater) *I chose this because it was cheaper than gruyere, but really any mild cheese will work

1 whole nutmeg (and a microplane grater) You will use about 1/2 of the nub *or use pre ground if you have to

2 slices of fresh, thick sourdough bread- pulsed in food processor to make fresh bread crumbs

Method:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta, drain well and set aside. (It should be just under-done as it will cook with the cheese in the oven later…and presumably will be reheated again and again)

In a small, non-stick omelet-sized pan, cook the onion in 1 tbs of olive oil. It should take about 5 minutes and be really crispy. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan just enough so that it’s hot. This is called scalding, but make sure you don’t boil it.

In a large pot, melt 5 tablespoons of butter (your butter package should have tablespoon markings on the wrapper) and the 2 tbs of truffle butter, along with the flour (you’re making a rue). Cook over low heat for about a minute, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

Slowly add the hot milk to the butter/flour mixture while stirring constantly.  A whisk would work better for this if, but only if you’re using a metal pot. A metal whisk will scratch your non-stick pan. Cook for another 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn off the flame and add all the grated cheeses, salt, pepper and ½ of your freshly grated nutmeg (or ½ teaspoon ground).

Add the pasta to the cheese mixture in the pot along with the onions and a bit more salt and pepper. Pour into a greased glass baking dish (mine is 15 x 10) or individual ramekins.

In the same pan you cooked the onions in, heat the bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon of butter over low heat. Sprinkle this mixture on top of the macaroni.

Bake for 30 minutes until there are patches of crispiness.

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