Brusselled Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Or: How to Make Vegetables Unhealthy.

Bacon. Butter. Cream. More butter. Some cheese. More cheese. Ok, ok, about a half pound of cheese. Hungry yet? I love brussel sprouts simply steamed, with a dressing of dijon or sesame oil. And I love kale sauteed with garlic and a splash of vinegar. But, right now, I just need some fat. A cheesy, melty mess of fat that warms the house as it bakes and drives the worries of the day from my mind.

For me, the most comforting foods are childhood favorites that bring back memories of simpler times. Though macaroni and cheese fits into that category for me, this one is quite a bit different from the yellow, goopey dish I remember craving as a kid. Stouffers and Easy Mac were my choices back in the day: preservative-laden boxed meals with ingredients like sodium triployphosphate and ‘cheese sauce’ made with corn syrup. I think I’ll pass on reliving those particular memories.

Nowadays, I prefer to use real cheese made by a real farmer. For this dish, I went with a sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees. Pyrenees and Basque cheeses are often described as floral, with hints of flour, nuts, and browned butter. They are dense, firm, but still creamy and lactic. I like to pair these cheeses with stone fruits, especially cherries, and lightly hopped pale ales. As for cooking, I hadn’t actually tried to melt cheeses in this style before, but I was definitely satisfied with the results. It melted oh-so-well, turning ooey-gooey without getting gloppy. And, somehow, it managed to be reminiscent of those frozen Stouffer’s dishes I had been trying to forget. Which, apparently, is not a bad thing at all.

P.s.: If you like cheese even a little bit check out my girl Lauren’s new endeavor, The Cheesist. Unpretentious and honest reports from a cheese and wine pro that are both hilarious and helpful. Also, Lauren is spectacular.

Brusselled Mac ‘n’ Cheese
serves 4

1/2 lb Calamari pasta, or another thick pasta that absorbs sauce well
4 thick slices of bacon, cut into lardons
4 tbsp butter, divided
2 shallots, sliced and separated into rings
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup brussel sprouts, quartered
1 cup kale, roughly chopped
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup grated Pyrenees sheep’s milk cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 350º. Cook pasta according to packages instructions. Set aside. Crisp bacon in a large skillet and set aside, reserving fat. Melt two tablespoons of butter in the skillet along with the reserved fat. Fry the shallots until browned and crispy, set aside. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook until fragrant. Add the brussel sprouts, kale and water. Cook, covered, over medium-high heat until sprouts are tender. Uncover and raise heat. Cook until remaining water has evaporated and brussel sprouts begin to brown. Remove from heat and set aside. To make bechamel, add remaining two tablespoons of butter and flour to a small saucepan. Over medium-low heat cook mixture, stirring constantly, until it thickens and bubbles a bit. Add the cream and continue stirring until small bubbles begin to form. Add in 3/4 of the cheese and stir until no lumps remain. In a casserole dish, combine noodles, bacon, sprout mixture, and bechamel. Stir to distribute sauce evenly. Top with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese and fried shallots. Cover with foil and bake for thirty minutes. Uncover and raise temperature to 400º. Continue baking until cheese is browned. Let cool slightly before serving.