Monday, January 28, 2013

Comfort: Duck crumb mac 'n cheese.

I don't know what it's been like where you are, but we just got over a cold snap. A real cold snap. Brr.

Last Thursday I had intentions of visiting Gatineau's Festibiere d'Hiver, but I was just so tired of being cold, plus I had duck prosciutto sitting in my fridge, screaming to be used. Next year, Festibiere.

It was time to mac 'n cheese.

I've baked a few mac 'n cheeses in my time, but my favourite recipe base borrows heavily from Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes. I do this because he starts off with crisping pancetta in the roasting/baking dish. I couldn't see why this wouldn't work with duck - and so in it went.

I'm a big fan of a splurge meal per week to avoid feeling deprived and that's definitely what this was, but that doesn't mean it isn't helpful to bulk up on veggies. I love making my mac and cheeses a half-cauliflower affair. Boil the cauliflower along with the noodles, then strain them together and you've eliminated that feeling that you're eating something with very few redeeming nutritional qualities.

Before turning my noodles and cauliflower into the hot baking pan, I extracted my crispy duck prosciutto, which was destined for the food processor, along with breadcrumbs, rosemary, salt, pepper and a little extra virgin olive oil.

The best part of Jamie Oliver's mac and cheese is that it don't need no fancy roux.* This is because he instead douses the whole thing in crème fraîche. So douse I did. And stirred in eight ounces of grated goat's milk cheddar, to boot. For all Jamie's lecturing about healthy eating, he doesn't mess around with mac and cheese.

And that's the way it should be. If you're going to eat mac and cheese, just eat mac and cheese, damnit.

The result? Warm, creamy, cheesy, delicious. I ate way too much in spite of my best attempts to fill up on a dill and lemon salad. But I probably needed the calories to keep warm. Right?


Duck Crumb Mac and Cheese
to serve four

Half of one duck breast prosicutto, thinly sliced
Half a head of cauliflower
2oz no yolk egg noodles (or other pasta)
8oz goat's milk cheddar, grated (or experiment - but it should be a strong cheese)
1/2 cup crème fraîche
pinch ground cayenne pepper
leaves from three sprigs fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp dried rosemary)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
around 100g day-old-to-dry bread, or as much as you need for crumbs
1-2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (evoo)

Preheat oven to 425F. 

Spread the prosciutto out in a single layer on the bottom of the baking dish and place in the oven while you prep the rest of the dish. Keep an eye on it - you want it to get crispy, not to burn. 

Place the cauliflower and noodles in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring a kettle of water to a boil and pour over both, bringing it back to a boil and cooking until noodles are al dente and cauliflower is tender. (If you're not convinced this will work, I get it - you can cook them separately. Just keep an eye on that duck. 

Drain the noodles and cauliflower, reserving about a cup of the water. Assemble remaining ingredients.

Assuming the duck is reasonably crispy by now, extract it from the bottom of the pan, leaving the rendered fat behind. Place the prosciutto in a food processor with the bread (torn or cut into pieces), rosemary, salt and pepper. Pulse, drizzling in the evoo, until you have a few clumps of crumbs forming but they are not so oily that they appear wet. 

Turn the noodles and cauliflower into the roasting pan with the rendered duck, breaking up the cauliflower with a wooden spoon until it is in manageably sized pieces. Add the crème fraîche, grated cheddar, salt, cayenne and black pepper. Stir until combined and cheese is melted. Top with bread crumbs.

Bake for around 8-12 minutes, until top is crisp and golden and cheese is bubbling around the edges. Serve with a salad boasting bitter, acidic flavours to cut all that richness, then tuck into some ducky cheesy goodness.

 *roux may not be fancy.