Truffle Mac and Cheese

When I saw Ina Garten make this as a "welcome home" dinner for her dear friends that just returned from Europe (poor things), I couldn't believe what I was watching. Macaroni and Cheese is already decadent, but truffle butter? And mushrooms? Oh my word. I aim to eat healthy, fresh foods whenever possible, but I have my moments, and this was immediately placed on the indulgent list.

Living in Los Angeles, I knew somewhere, a gourmet food market would have white truffle butter. I found the necessary three ounce container at Bristol Farms (for $12, incidentally, but if you consider that this dish would easily feed six hungry dinner guests, it's quite reasonable). Andrew and I strolled home, eager as ever to get in the kitchen.

Before adding the milk and cheese, the truffle butter replaces unsalted butter during the roux-making process. The addition of sautéed mushrooms drives home the earthy elements, and almost makes you think you're doing something good for yourself when you take a bite. Sadly, this is far, far from true. Baking fresh breadcrumbs (from real white bread) studded with parsley and fresh garlic, makes the top crunchy. I was so absorbed in excitement that Andrew had to stop me and ask if we were using plates, because I just stood at the stove for a minute or two, picking off the crunchy noodles for myself.


Recipe courtesy Ina Garten

Serves six to eight at a dinner party, or two adults for about three days.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Good olive oil
1 lb. mushrooms (any variety or combination), stems removed and caps sliced 1/2-inch
3 tablespoons sherry
Kosher salt
1 pound pasta, such as cavatappi
3 ounces white truffle butter (recommended: D'Artagnan)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart whole milk, scalded
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 1/2 to 3 cups)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
                                                                                                                                                           Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) saute pan, add the mushrooms, and cook over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until they are tender. Add the sherry and continue to saute for a few more minutes, until the sherry is absorbed. Set aside.
                                                                                                                                                           Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the pasta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until al dente. Drain well.
                                                                                                                                                      Meanwhile, melt the truffle butter in a large (6-quart) saucepan and whisk in the flour. Cook for 2 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the white sauce is thickened and creamy. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, the pepper, and nutmeg.
                                                                                                                                                          Combine the pasta, sauce, and mushrooms in a large bowl and pour them into a 10 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish.
                                                                                                                                                           Place the garlic and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until they're minced. Add the bread crumbs and pulse to combine. Sprinkle the crumbs over the pasta and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the crumbs are golden brown. Serve hot.