Mac and cheese

I discovered that the lone celeriac in our fridge had developed a bad spot—but the rest was fine. I didn’t want to make another puree, so I looked in the pantry and found a bag of green lentils. Somehow the two connected in my mind (imagining the celeriac as a sort of giant, squat carrot) in the form of saucisses-lentilles. Which meant I was in need of some nice sausages, preferably Polish kielbasa. Our local neighborhood market, BiRite, tends to be a little thin in the cured-meats-that-are-bad-for-you category, but they did have a package of four nitr*te-free frankfurters from Let’s Be Frank, a local hot dog maker. Back at home, I diced and roasted the celeriac, I cooked the lentils in a little chicken stock and white wine, and I browned two of the franks in a pan, along with a bunch of kale that I couldn’t bare to pass up while I was at the store. I no longer see the leafy triumvirate of kale/chard/collards as inconvenient filler in our veggie box—I look forward to them. I have a hard time cooking a meal without something green. Preparing the lentils and sausages and celeriac alone, no matter how classic, just seemed wrong. I carried the kale home like a bouquet.

What this all means is I was left with two remaining and uncured hot dogs hanging out in the fridge that I didn’t want to go bad. Before leaving for work I mentioned to Stephanie offhand that I was thinking about cooking them together with some mac and cheese, recreating a childhood favorite. But since we no longer keep boxed foods on hand, I made it my mission to pick some up on the way home. En route I remembered we had an unmemorable block of mild cheddar in the fridge—add that to a sauce béchamel (with a little Roquefort for kick), and we’d have a bona fide, not-from-powder, cheese sauce. We also had these perfect little shells from Baia, and a bunch of red chard from our veggie box (like I said, it’s hardly a meal without some green it—even if it’s smothered in a rich, cheesy mornay). The only thing we didn’t have was milk, for the bechamel. So I grabbed a pint at a corner store. Imagine my delight when Stephanie returned home from yoga and the first thing out of her mouth was “You know what I’ve been looking forward to all day? That mac and cheese.”

A quick search online reminded me of the rough proportions for the bechamel: equal parts butter and flour, anywhere from one to three tablespoons of each, to a cup of milk, depending on the consistency you’re after. I went middle-of-the-road. I warmed the milk in one pot, melted the butter in another, added the flour to the melted butter until combined, and then I slowly whisked in the warm milk. The creamy result emerges like magic. To this I added about a cup of various grated cheeses (mild cheddar, Roquefort, and some pecorino romano). We also had some creme fraiche that was getting a little long in the tooth, so in that went. Seasoned the sauce with salt and pepper of course, plus a pinch of nutmeg. Meanwhile I cut the franks into flat little circles, browned them, and then added small ribbons of chopped chard to saute. Once the pasta was al dente, I combined everything in the pan. Voila, my present day take on a guilty pleasure from childhood. It was delectable and easy, a meal borne out things we happened to have on hand, which is exactly how I like to cook. I’m not sure I could ever go back to the blue boxes.

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