Jan is going to another pot luck organized by NUMU Los Gatos. She and her students have been interviewing relocated American Indians who live in the South Bay—having moved to the city from various reservations in the 1950s, ‘60s, and 70s. Last time, I made a big pot of ham and beans. To switch things up, I decided to do larger than usual Mac & Cheese this time.
Note: This group prefers to be called American Indians, not Native Americans. As was explained to my wife, all of the governmental laws and protections for “American Indians” are written in those terms. If they started to call themselves something else they might forget—or lose—the rights and protections that pertain to being an “American Indian.”
Traditional Mac & Cheese is not exactly a health food, being mainly starch and fatty cheese. I try to make mine a bit more balanced—by adding some protein and working in as much vegetable matter in as possible. It is still not a health food, but it is a full meal.
Any aged, sharp, semi-hard cheese will do for this dish. I have made it American Swiss and Gruyère, but you can also use cheddar, Emmental, or Jarlsberg. Today, I am using a cheese from Trader Joe’s, that is a blend of Emmental and cheddar cheeses.
Karl’s Mac & Two Cheeses with Bacon & Leeks for a Crowd
12 oz. lean bacon
1 lb. small Italian macaroni (about 2 cups dry)
1 large onion, diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
3 stalks celery, diced
2 large leeks, white parts only, quartered lengthwise and sliced finely
4 cloves garlic, minced
Karl’s au Gratin Sauce II
3 Tbs. reserved bacon grease (or butter)
3 Tbs. flour
2 cup milk
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
½ lb. Emmental, grated
½ lb. white cheddar, grated
½ tsp. black pepper, fresh ground
Pinch nutmeg, fresh grated, separate uses
1. Set a medium pot with 4-6 quarts of water on over a high heat.
Tip: When the pot comes to a boil, add the macaroni to it. You may add half a teaspoon of salt to the water if you wish, but it is not necessary,
2. Fry the bacon crisply and, when done, set them on a paper towel to drain away the excess fat.
Tip: After the bacon has cooled, break them into small bite sized pieces.
3. Drain the excess bacon fat into a cup, reserve 3 tablespoons of bacon grease for later.
Tip: Leave 1-2 tablespoons of grease in the pan.
4. Add the macaroni to the boiling pot of water and simmer until al dente (about 8 minutes).
5. Add the onions, celery, and salt to the pan the bacon was in and sauté them until they are just starting to pick up some color.
Tip: Use the moisture released by the vegetables to deglaze the pan.
6. Add the leek and continue sautéing, until the vegetables are soft.
Tip: When you quarter a large leek lengthwise is can start to come apart, making it difficult to slice finely. My solution to this problem is: first I do not remove the root base of the leek. I stand the leek up right on its base and crosscut an X about half way down the leek. After I have cut the first half into fine shreds, I stand it up again and cut down again to within an inch of the base.
7. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and add the garlic to the hole in the center.
8. Sauté the garlic until fragrant, about one minutes.
9. Stir the garlic into the vegetables and remove the pan from the heat.
10. Drain the macaroni into a colander and rinse out the pot.
11. Add the reserved bacon grease and flour and cook stirring constantly until lightly browned.
Tip: Cooking grease and flour together is called a roux. Although this is usually done with butter you can use any form of fat.
12. Put the milk in a large microwave-safe measuring cup and heat it until warm.
Tip: This step is not strictly necessary, but it prevents the roux from lumping up when it is hit by the cold milk and makes it easier to get a smooth sauce.
13. Add the milk, a bit at a time, and continue stirring until the sauce has started to thicken.
14. Stir in the mustard.
15. Reserve ¼ cup of the cheese and add the rest to the sauce, a bit at a time, stirring constantly.
16. When the cheese is completely melted, stir in the nutmeg and pepper.
17. Return the macaroni to the pot.
18. Add the sautéed vegetables and most of the bacon to the pot and fold everything together.
Tip: you may wish to reserve a bit of the bacon as garnish.
Note: If you wish to dirty one less dish, you may serve the Mac & Cheese just as it is, garnishing individual bowls the remaining cheese and bacon. Otherwise…
19. Pour the mixture into a large Pam-ed casserole or baking dish.
20. Put the casserole into a 500º F for about 10 minutes.
21. Remove the baking dish from the oven and sprinkle the reserved cheese and bacon on top.
22. Return the casserole to the oven and switch the oven from bake to broil. Broil until the cheese is starting to brown well, about another 5-10 minutes.
23. Top the Mac & Cheese with a few gratings of fresh nutmeg and serve.
Note: If you are planning to transport the dish for a pot luck, spray some Pam on a sheet of aluminium foil so that it does not stick to the cheese and cover the casserole. Wrap the casserole in a heavy towel to keep it warm and to make it easier to carry the hot dish.