Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mac and cheese soup

Remember when I made the greatest macaroni and cheese the world has ever known last year?  If you don't, it's probably because you haven't made it yet, and you should change that immediately!  In any case, I do and it's one of the few dishes that I think about, at minimum, weekly, yet never get around to making it.  Why is that? Because one recipe of it feeds a small army.  Even though I'm sure I could convince Matt and some friends to help, it's more that I don't trust myself alone with a dish of that stuff.  It's deadly good and incredibly addicting!  Oh, the torture!

(Now, having written that first paragraph, I can assure you that Martha's mac and cheese will be made within the month.  Thank you, universe!)

Last Saturday, I was at Barnes & Noble perusing the magazine section.  As much as I get excited about weddings (now with an actual wedding in my future!), I always end up in the food section.  Unofficial plug: If you're a food enthusiast and haven't checked out Food Network's magazine, I highly recommend it.  It has fantastic pictures, a variety of recipes, and the organization is off the chart -- an index at the front with pictures grouping the recipes into categories (appetizers, breakfast, sides, fish, meat, desserts, etc.).  It's a type A cook's dream!

Anyway, I did a quick glance through the index and decided it was worth buying this issue.  What sold me?  A recipe for macaroni and cheese soup.  That's right, soup, not casserole.  I'm usually on the fence about remixing classic recipes, but the ingredients and steps sounded fool-proof.  Simplified: make a cheesy broth and add cooked elbow macaroni noodles.  Um, yes please!

This is the kind of soup that will send me running home from the gym to serve up a bowl for dinner.  If you can get past the initial change in medium, I promise you'll have a new favorite comfort food recipe to add to your short list.  It's truly easy and quick to make, a great characteristic to have in a weeknight recipe.  The base is thick and cheesy without being heavy (no cream!), and the pureed vegetables' contribution to the overall flavor cannot be praised enough.  The macaroni is smooth and soft, just as it should be.  But my favorite part?  Each little noodle captures a hidden pocket of the cheddar soup that enhances the experience of eating this even more.  It's practically a religious experience.  Topped with roasted tomatoes?  Oh my gosh.  I wish I could say this soup is sinful and so wrong, but it really isn't.  It's just that damn good.  (Pardon me, but I had to break out the big guns for this one.)

Mac and Cheese Soup
(with some changes from the original in Food Network magazine)
-the magazine claims it serves 6 (maybe as a first course), but I'd say closer to 4

A few notes: I pureed the shallots, carrots, and celery so as to not have flecks of orange and green mucking up the aesthetics or texture of my soup -- I suggest you do the same.  If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you might want to replace half of the cheddar with Gruyere... it's a fantastic melting cheese and, surprise, is a key element of the casserole mac and cheese that I love so dearly.  It'll add another dimension to this already delicious dish.

2 cups dry elbow macaroni noodles
2 tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick
Ground black pepper
3 shallots
1 carrot, diced (about 1/3 cup)
1 stalk of celery, diced (about 1/3 cup)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 3/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 cups milk
6 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.  Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook macaroni noodles per directions; drain.

Arrange tomato slices on baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.  Bake until slightly shriveled, about 7 minutes.  Remove sheet with tomatoes to a cooling rack for later use.

Puree the shallots, carrots, and celery in a food processor.  In a large pot, add the vegetables and cook over medium-high heat until fragrant and softened slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.  Gradually stir in the broth and bring to a boil; cook, stirring, until thickened, 6 to 7 minutes.

Remove from  heat.  Add the milk and cheeses, stirring until the cheeses melt.  If needed, return heat to low and stir just until cheese has melted and remove from heat.  Add macaroni and stir until combined.

Season with pepper.  Serve soup and top with roasted tomatoes.

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