Rigatoni & Cheese Spanish Style
IN A BOWL OF MAC N CHEESE
“Seriously?” I said to my wonderful husband of 17 years with a slight condescending tone as he ordered his entrée. “You seriously just ordered mac ‘n cheese?” I reiterate my already painful, snooty, teetering on unkind retorical question. I rolled my eyes, as if he didn’t already get my disapproval.
Eric’s love for mac ‘n cheese is definitely everlasting. Throughout his childhood, maybe even the first day he could eat solid food; it was on his baby bowl. Yep, the little elbow macaroni which comes with some suspicious orange powder, packaged in that classic blue box was his first love.
Then, we met. We got married. The beloved Kraft Macaroni & Cheese box starts to take less and less room in our pantry. Until one day it completely disappeared and was completely forgotten.
Feeling challenged by the whole Eric’s restaurant order experience last week, mixed with a strong desire to bring in some flavor to an already creamy, comforting, ortherwise bland dish, I developed this recipe. A bit of cayenne for heat, oaxaca and manchego cheeses to replace your typical cheddar or gruyère, not to mention adding in some chorizo, sure give this classic a modern and global twist.
The aroma of the garlic dancing in the pan coated with melted butter filled up our ‘limited space’ kitchen. Then the chorizo gets in the pool. Smiling & looking at this beautiful orange hue, I stirred for a couple of minutes. Grabbing a couple of those chorizo dices, of course for “tasting” purposes, I let them sit quietly while I prepare the cheese sauce. Chorizo, my friend, you sure are tasty!
“What are you making? Smells awesome!” All of a sudden I heard this noise coming from behind me as I pulled my super duty braiser / pan out of the oven. I turned around with a vessel full of baked mac ‘n cheese. Eric’s eyes got big, like he’s five. “No way!”
Scooping out not only creamy, gooey, cheesy, but bright pasta – with a slight hint of heat coming from the spicy chorizo and cayenne, thinly layered with cheeses and crunchy panko breadcrumb; a sprinkle of chives puts it over the top. I can see the happiness and ease of Eric’s childhood. All of a sudden, I let go of my arrogant view of ‘never order mac ‘n cheese at restaurants’. Although, to be honest, I still wonder why anyone wants to pay twelve bucks for a small bowl of super easy comfort.
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups Spanish chorizo, diced
- For Bechamel:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, extra for buttering the pan
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
- 4 cups whole milk, warmed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 cups oaxaca cheese, grated
- 2 cups manchego cheese, grated
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- For the Topping:
- ½ cup oaxaca cheese, grated
- ½ cup manchego cheese, grated
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons fresh chives
- Set the oven to 350°. Butter a 3½-quart casserole.
- Cook the pasta according to its package in salted water to al dente. Drain.
- In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook, be careful not to burn it. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the chorizo, stirring frequently for 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
- Make your bechamel:
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour, whisking until golden.
- Gradually stir in the warm milk. Bring it to simmer, constantly whisking for about 5 to 10
- minutes, until it thickens to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in salt and cayenne pepper.
- Fold in the cooked pasta and chorizo.
- Transfer to the casserole. Sprinkle the cheese and breadcrumbs topping. Bake for 30 minutes.
- Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then garnish with the chives.