Macaroni and cheese is another “comfort food” that can act as a gustatory return to foods we loved when we were kids. And there is a little kid in us that never departs! Call me short-changed; but I never had “mac and cheese” as a kid. Yet it was a dish that we made for our kids. And if memory serves, they liked it. The boxed varieties are easy to make, filling and cheap.
The idea of “elevating” a common dish to a higher status is certainly not new. There are countless casseroles that certainly begin with simplecity, and then other ingredients are added to make something new and in certain cases, something special.
This is a “special” dish. Lobster has the way of doing that! I first had it at Carol Peck’s Good News Café in Woodbury,CT. Carol is a gifted Chef. Her dishes and seasonal fare are superbly prepared, exceptionally presented, and served by a highly competent and well trained staff. It doesn’t get better.
Her Adult Macaroni and Cheese is sinfully good. After Thanksgiving, I was in the mood to try something different. Why not Carol’s “signature dish?” I went looking for recipes on-line for macaroni and cheese with lobster and found several. All seemed about the same… more or less with the same ingredients, and ease of assembly. I just dug a little deeper ‘til I located her recipe which is presented below.
My choice of wine differs from many of the suggestions I saw on-line… usually a richly styled Chardonnay was the recommended pairing. As much as I love White Burgundy or Chardonnay, it just doesn’t play into the opulence of this dish. Rather the wine should be more minerally based with a bit of a crisp edge to cut thru the richness. Several wines come to mind… Pinot Blanc fromAlsace, Verdejo from Rueda, a Grüner Veltliner from Wachau, or a Sauvignon from theLoire. At Carol’s Restaurant I usually opt for a Pinot Blanc. For my first go at making this dish, I am going to give the Loire a shot.
n.b. If you are committed to the idea of a Chardonnay… make it a 1er Cru Chablis.
PierreChainier Pouilly Fumé ‘10 (Loire, France)
The greatest Sauvignon Blancs in the world hail from theLoireValleyinFrance. In particular from two appellations: Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. The Pierre Chainier is a great example of this appellation. The wines are famous for their gunflint character and develop superb smoky aromas from the local soils that match with fresh and alive citrus fruit and gooseberry. This sophisticated white is great as an aperitif, awesome with shell fish and seafood. White-yellow with hints of silver. Very aromatic on the nose. The palate is fresh and zippy at first, leading to the crisp fruity flavors of classic Sauvignon Blanc.
Adult Macaroni and Cheese
6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
A goodly amount of ice
4 blue cheese stuffed olives
8 sprigs fresh thyme
8 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
12 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2 lemons cut in half
4 1½ pound live lobsters, preferably fromMaine
Handful of coarse salt
2½ pounds dried penne
3 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups provolone cheese (imported, grated)
1 pound fresh spinach, washed, dried, and chopped
3 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon truffle oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other cockamamie ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size. Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
To cook the lobster fill an 8-10 quart pot three-fourths full with water. Add the thyme, parsley, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Squeeze in the juice of the lemons, then drop them in the pot. Cover and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the lobsters and cook 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the lobsters in a colander, cover with ice, and let cool.
When the lobster is cool enough to handle, pull the tail from the body and remove the claws. Discard the body, or reserve for use in a sauce or stock. Cut the shell from the tail using a knife or scissors and remove the meat. With the blunt end of a knife chop off the tips of the claws as close to the ends as possible (this will help release the meat from the claws). Crack the claws in the center, break open, and carefully remove the claw meat without breaking apart. Meat from the larger claws will have a piece of cartilage in it; this can be pulled out from the area where the claw fingers meet. Cut the tail meat into 1/2 inch slices. Leave the claws whole to use as a garnish. Set the lobster meat aside until ready to assemble the pasta dish.
To cook the pasta, fill a 6 to 8 quart pot with water, add salt, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the penne and stir. Cook the pasta for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, until al dente. Pour into a colander to drain. Do not rinse the pasta; just toss it to remove any excess water. Sprinkle the oil over the pasta and toss with a large chef’s fork. Pour the pasta onto a sheet tray or shallow dish to cool (if it looks too sticky, sprinkle some more oil on at this point). Let the pasta cool to room temperature.
When the pasta is cooled pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the cooled pasta in a bowl with the Parmesan and provolone cheese, spinach, heavy cream, and lobster meat (except claws). Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large round, oval, or oblong baking dish and bake for approximately 25 minutes, until bubbling hot. Garnish with the lobster claws.
Carol’s recipe calls for this dish to serve 10 for a buffet. I halved it. Also, I decided to use frozen lobster tails. I love the texture of South African lobster, a bit firmer than theMaineversions. I unthawed them and used two (total weight just under 1½ pounds) and followed the cooking instructions.