Ever since Food Network became a cultural phenomenon, home cooks have had more access to celebrity chef recipes. But the recipes don't always translate to home cooks. In fact, if you search for recipes on foodtv.com, you'll notice many have comments regarding the recipes' inaccuracies and discrepancies. I have attempted to make many of a celeb-a-chef recipe, only to be forced to make adjustments or end up with a big bowl of crap. With all this in mind, I set out to make Giada De Laurentiis's Spicy Baked Macaroni from her book Everyday Pasta.
Although the recipe has many ingredients, the procedure is fairly straightforward. Most of the work lies in prep, and though it can be tedious, it's not difficult. After setting out all my tools and ingredients, I got to work. The first step was boiling the pasta. Giada recommends boiling the macaroni for 8-10 minutes until it's softened but still firm, since the dish will later be baked, further cooking the macaroni. I found that my pasta had reached this stage after only 6 minutes, so be sure to check early.
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Also, Giada says to use a full pound of macaroni, but this yielded too much pasta compared to the remainder of the ingredients, so I would cut the measurement down to a 10-ounce package. The recipe includes a lot of vegetables, including spinach, onions mushrooms and tomatoes. You sauté the veggies and then season them up with crushed red pepper flakes for the spiciness. Though the recipe calls for ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, I would suggest at least doubling that measurement if you want it to be spicy at all.
The cheese is a blend of freshly grated Parmesan and Romano along with fresh mozzarella. The flavor of the cheese was perfect. Due to the large amount of pasta, I had to increase the amount of mozzarella in order to make it creamier and less dry. The topping was a delightful mix of the dry cheeses plus bread crumbs, which coated both the bottom of the pan and the top of the pasta. Due to the amount of pasta, I ended up with two large pans of macaroni and cheese, which were devoured by day two. Giada mentions that the flavor of the pasta improves the second day, and it really does.
The kitchen smelled delicious as the pasta baked for half an hour in the oven. When it emerged, it was brown and crunchy on top and had a soft, melty cheese center. This was the best macaroni cheese I have made myself. It had strong Italian flavors from the garlic, onion and blend of cheeses, and the veggies were subtle and added a nice depth. I had some fresh basil growing in the yard, and a sprinkle of it intensified the Italian flavors. If you are a macaroni and cheese lover looking for a deviation from the more typical mild cheddar version, give this recipe a try. This is comfort food at its fattening best.
Tomorrow, we'll share the recipe.