One Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago we woke up and had quite a few things to do around the house. We’ve been so busy over the past few months that it was one of the first weekends we had available to just be together at home.
So after shuffling around for a couple hours and sort-of kind-of doing some things, we decided it was time to relax and needed some comfort food to go along with our newfound laziness. The Saturday before our lazy Sunday escapade we took Oliver for a 5k run that turned into 5k running plus 6k walking to and from the dog park.
All 3 of us were beat by the end of it. So on Sunday not only did we want comfort food, we wanted reward comfort food. I was craving something rich and creamy with a hint of sharp umami to balance it all out. My first thought was grits, but sadly we were out. So the next best thing was mac and cheese.
My go to mac and cheese is homemade. Once I learned how easy it was to make bechamel I never thought about making boxed mac and cheese again. We had whole milk in the house for eggnog purposes so I used that instead of my usual 2% and wow was it amazing.
I cooked the roux for a few minutes to bring out the nuttiness and then added the milk and it smelled like sugar cookies. When we were in Milan over the summer we wanted to try the quintessential Milanese dish. That happens to be risotto alla milanese, which in Milan might just be called risotto.
In any case, risotto alla milanese is a risotto cooked with saffron. The combination of starch, cream, cheese, and saffron makes for a beautiful balance and flavour profile. I figured it would also work for mac & cheese and wow did it ever. I don’t think I’m ever making mac & cheese without saffron again.
It’s such an elegant and exotic twist on a classic comfort food. I use this saffron and I’m really happy with it – its rated really well, reasonably priced, and appears to be of very good quality.
- 1.5 cups dry pasta of your choice (I used farfalle because I didn't have anything else - macaroni or rotini is probably better)
- 6 quarts salted water
- 2 TBSP salted butter
- 2 TBSP AP flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup mild or sharp cheddar grated
- 2-3 pinches of saffron
- ¼ cup grated manchego or other hard cheese (preferably - you can also just use cheddar)
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and boil pasta per package directions to al dente consistency
- Melt butter in skillet at medium heat
- Add flour and stir until incorporated
- Cook for up to 5 minutes until the roux slightly darkens and takes on a nutty aroma
- Slowly add milk ¼ cup at a time stirring continuously. Your mixture may be a bit clumpy - I used a silicon spatula and pressed out the clumps as I went
- Once milk is incorporated, continue cooking for 5-10 minutes until mixture thickens to a sauce-like consistency
- Add cheddar cheese and stir until incorporated
- Add Saffron and stir until incorporated
- Taste it - add salt if necessary. I wouldn't add anything else because I it would interfere with the subtle saffron flavour
- Add drained pasta to skillet and mix to coat it evenly with the sauce
- Sprinkle even layer of the breadcrumbs and cheese on top
- Put under low broiler for 10-15 minutes
Oven safe skillet, preferably cast-iron