February is my month. It’s my wedding anniversary, my birthday, Valentine’s Day. This year we also have Leap Year, the birthday of my late cousin Bill, who left us way too soon.
So its a good time for indulging, if only to get us past the chill to welcome spring around the table with friends.
I love the idea of pairing comfort with elegance, and want to share with you my chicest comfort food dish, mac & cheese made with Pleasant Ridge Reserve, one of the most widely acclaimed cheeses in the country by rock star cheese maker Mike Gingrich of Uplands Cheese Company. To give you an idea of the famous-ness of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, it was named best of show by the American Cheese Society a mind-boggling three times. No other cheese has won more than once.
Such fame comes at a price, and often you’ll find Pleasant Ridge reserve approaching $30 a pound. Well worth it given the care given to the cows and to the cheese making process, and a delicious splurge for an elegant dinner party. The good news is that small-scale servings mean you use less than a half pound for a big impression. Serve this beside a farm-raised rib eye and roasted broccoli and your guests will remember you fondly.
In keeping with this upscale interpretation of comfort food, I serve it in individual dishes. Use ramekins if you like, but I find my little crème brulée dishes make a pretty presentation and give more surface area for that crunchy topping. If you have neither, use shallow coffee cups for a touch of whimsy.
So-chic Pleasant Ridge Reserve macaroni & cheese
Serves six as a side
2 cups penne, 6 ounces, slightly undercooked
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for buttering baking dishes
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
½ teaspoon salt
6 ounces Pleasant Ridge Reserve, grated and divided (about 1 1/2 cups)
½ cup fresh bread crumbs, from about ½ dinner roll, crust on
2 tablespoons minced rosemary
Generously butter six half-cup ramekins or crème brulée dishes and set on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss together bread crumbs, rosemary, and about ½ cup of cheese in small bowl and set aside.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Once butter begins to bubble, add flour and stir to combine. Continue stirring for a minute until bubbly again, then add milk and salt. Stir until it thickens and bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Remove from heat and stir in remaining cheese. Mix in cooked pasta.
Divide among baking dishes and sprinkle with bread crumb and cheese mixture. Bake in the center of the oven until golden and bubbly, about 20 to 25 minutes.