Porcini Macaroni Pie
So I’m working on my second episode of Exotic Table, and this one is inspired by a nonna I met at Enoteca Maria, an Italian spot in Staten Island that has grandmas from all over Italy as chefs making specialties from their individual regions. How inviting is that? I found the concept so powerful – I had to dig deeper, and a nonna by the name of Rosa Turano showed me her simple and elegant porcini dish.
Of course, I can never leave well enough alone, so I did a bit of a double twist here drawing from my incredible day in the kitchen with Rosa and one of my favorites, Trinidadian Macaroni Pie. The result is this beautiful baked mac ‘n cheese threaded with porcinis. Cheesy, buttery, with a crust and that gorgeous porcini flavor…Enjoy and look out for the Exotic Table episode in a few weeks!
Serves 6 to 8 (yields (1) 3-quart baking dish)
olive oil or butter
1 cup fresh or rehydrated porcini mushrooms, thinly sliced*
1 yellow onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 quart milk
½ tsp white pepper
½ tsp black pepper
2 tsps salt
2 ½ cups grated gruyère
1 lb pasta (I used pappardelle here)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp fresh chives, finely chopped
1 ½ tsps fresh thyme, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 350º F.
Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, and, when hot, add mushrooms. Leave them alone and let them brown for a minute or two and then throw in a pat of butter to help with the browning. Stir and add salt – browning the mushrooms will really bring out their earthy flavor and adding salt at the end will prevent moisture from ruining the browning process. Lower the heat to medium-low and throw in the onions. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Remove from heat and cool in a bowl.
In a large sauté pan or pot over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour all at once and whisk vigorously to avoid lumps. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. You just want to remove the raw taste. Add milk and spices and continue to whisk to prevent lumps (remember to get the corners!). Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce heat to low and cook for 8 to 10 minutes whisking often. You want this to simmer gently while it’s thickening. Remove from heat.
To the onion mixture in the bowl, add 2 cups of the grated cheese as well as the eggs. Add a ladle full of the béchamel (milk mixture) and stir. Continue to add ladlefuls until the egg mixture is up to temperature with the béchamel. Add everything back to the béchamel in the sauté pan and stir to combine thoroughly and make sure cheese is completely melted.
Add pasta to boiling, heavily salted water and cook until it’s a bit underdone. It depends on what type of pasta you are using. I used fresh pappardelle, and it cooked in 2 to 3 minutes. It’s going to continue cooking in the oven, so leave it al dente. Drain pasta and add to the béchamel/cheese mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of the chopped chives and 1 teaspoon of the chopped thyme and combine thoroughly. Pour into a heavily greased, 3-quart baking dish.
In a bowl, combine remaining herbs, ½ cup of cheese, and breadcrumbs. Sprinkle on top of macaroni and either dot with butter or drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 35 minutes until top is browned and bubbly.