Summer Veggie Mac and Cheese

Hope everyone had a nice 4th! I spent the day at my parents annual 4th of July party which has been a thing since as long as I can remember. This year was the biggest it's ever been despite the oppressive heat, drawing upwards of 40 people, enduring temperatures upwards of 90 degrees. I am proud to report that I won the water balloon toss, so I'll see you suckers next year to defend that title. I also brought this tasty mac and cheese, loaded with summer veggies, that actually tasted fairly light for a mac and cheese dish.
I wanted a deep browned onion flavor to be in the background of this dish, so I cooked them a bit longer than I normally would have. You may notice that the roux is very thick today. This is because there is a little more flour than I normally would use for this amount of pasta. The goal was to thicken things up a little firmer to account for all the water content in the veggies. Luckily it worked, cause if it hadn't it would have really roux-ened my day eheyyyoooo! So much cheese! 74 oz to be specific. This is how cheese sauce should look. I added in all the veggies and herbs after mixing the pasta with the sauce. It sat in the fridge overnight, then I drove it to the party.  It cooked for an hour and a half at 400.  The party was outside, so the oven didn't bother anyone. It was QUITE the spread that afternoon! America! This plus beer plus hot weather lead to an extended food coma, but I was still able to pull in that water balloon toss championship.

Can we talk about cheese sauces for a minute? I often read a blog where someone follows one of my, or anyones, mac and cheese recipe and specifically states in their post "The recipe said to bring the milk sauce to a simmer, then let it cool a little, then add the cheese, but I skipped bringing it to a simmer because it seemed pointless to heat it up then cool it down"

The reason you bring this sauce to a simmer first is because the flour mixed with the butter (roux) does not activate it's thickening power until the whole thing comes to a simmer. If you don't bring it to a simmer, all your efforts with the pasty flour in the pan and whisking out the lumps were sort of pointless. I mean, yea the cheese is gonna thicken things up a bit on it's own, and the toasted flour will add a nice nuttyness to the overall flavor, but the silky texture of the sauce that the thickened milk brings to the table is really one of the things that makes mac and cheese great.

The reason you cool it down a little before adding the cheese is that cheese can cause the milk to separate if added when things are too hot! If this separation happens to you however, it can be fixed with a nice powerful hand blender.

So next time you make mac and cheese, slow down and pay attention to your cheese sauce a little bit closer. Watch as it suddenly thickens right before your eyes as the milk starts to lightly bubble up. It's actually a really cool process.

Here is the recipe adapted down to only 1 pound of pasta:

Summer Veggie Mac and Cheese

For:  15 People (as a side)
  • 8 Ounces Cheddar
  • 8 Ounces Jack
  • 8 Ounces Mozzarella
  • 5 Ouncea Queso Blanco
  • 1 Pounds Pasta
  • 1/3 Stick Butter
  • 1 Medium Onion
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 1/4 Cup Flour
  • 3 Cups Milk
  • 3 Tomatoes
  • 1 Zucchini
  • 2 Ears Corn
  • 2 branches Basil
  • 2 Stems Oregano

Instructions

  1. Broil or grill the corn and chunks of zucchini to brown on very high heat but don't overcook! Chop the corn off the cob and dice up the zucchini and tomatoes into small chunks. Chop the basil and oregano and add to the veggies. Salt and mix well.
  2. Shred all the cheeses. Bring water to a boil.
  3. In a large heavy bottom pot, add the butter and diced onion. Cook until nicely browned, about 15 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the flour and mix well, stirring and moving around in the pan constantly. This will be a very thick mixture, keep it moving in the pan so it doesn't burn. Cook about 3 minutes until it starts to smell a little nutty. Add in the milk and stir well, whisking and scraping any burnt bits off the bottom of the pan. Bring this mixture to a simmer! You will notice it thicken just as it comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, then mix in the cheese in 3 batches, letting it melt each time. Return the sauce to a very low heat if the cheese needs a little help to completely melt. Finally pour the sauce into a baking dish(or a few) so it is ready and waiting for the pasta.
  4. Cook the pasta (in batches if doing the large version) and add directly to the sauce in the baking dish. Make sure to slightly under cook it.  Mix well. Mix in the veggies (and any accumulated juices) and mix nicely. This is where I put mine into the fridge overnight for the party the next day. Bake at 400 until it bubbles for at least 10 minutes. From warm this should only take a half hour, from the fridge it will take at least an hour and a half. Broil to brown up the top before serving!