By Stephanie Stiavetti

I was lucky enough to visit Spain in the very beginning of writing Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese, where I lived on cheese, ham, and wine. Once I got home, I was determined to capture those sunny Barcelona flavors in a thick, luscious gratin. While Garrotxa is a cheese worth seeking out, this dish is just as delicious using whatever cheeses you have around the house. Aged cheddar works well, as does Pecorino, Gruyere, Fontina, or whatever else you can find on sale at your local supermarket. I’ve really enjoyed it with both Tillamook cheddar and Kerrygold Dubliner. (Note: Trader Joe’s has a particularly good cheese selection, while still maintaining reasonable prices.) Any ham, salami, or cured spicy sausage will work well in this dish as well, though if you’re willing to spring for Spanish ham, Italian pancetta, or any good prosciutto, you’ll be in for a real treat.

Penne with Garrotxa, Serrano Ham, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

From Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese

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Serves 2 to 4

8 ounces penne

1 pound Garrotxa, shredded

¼ cup milk

½ cup crème fraîche

1 tablespoon butter

½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

½ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes

6 ounces Serrano ham slices, torn coarsely by hand into chunks

Native to Catalonia, Spain, Garrotxa is a throaty, goaty cheese that imparts an almost Cheddar-like tanginess. A gray mold blankets this pasteurized flavor titan, which gets its smooth earthiness from the lush coastal grasses that feed the goats raised to make it. Cutting away the rind on this firm cheese is easy, and a sharp knife run down the sides will shave off the moldy exterior without sacrificing much of the Garrotxa beneath.

Here, Garrotxa coalesces with two other signature Spanish ingredients, sun-dried tomatoes and Serrano ham, to create an ethereal cheese gratin polished with just a touch of butter, milk, and crème fraîche. This recipe isn’t your typical melty, creamy macaroni and cheese; rather, it’s a drier dish that allows the ingredients to mingle coyly while remaining somewhat independent.

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Drain through a colander. Set aside.

3. In a saucepan, combine cheese, milk, crème fraîche, and butter. Cook over medium-low heat until cheese is mostly melted and you have a creamy sauce. To keep the cheese sauce from breaking, remove the sauce from the heat before the cheese is entirely melted. Season with pepper, adding more to taste if you like.

4. In a shallow buttered casserole dish, toss pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and Serrano ham. Pour the sauce over the pasta, then stir together until combined. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and bubbling around the edges. Serve immediately.

Alternative cheeses:

Ibores, Twig Farm Goat Tomme, Bardwell Farm’s Equinox

Wine pairings:

Txakoli, Catalonian white wine, Grüner Veltliner

Additional pairings for the cheese:

fig jam, picholine olives

 

Written by Stephanie Stiavetti

Stephanie Stiavetti is a freelance food writer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes for KQEDNPR, the Huffington Post, and also dabbles in independent radio and video production. She spends a ridiculous amount of time in the kitchen, recording her adventures at TheCulinaryLife.com.

Her first cookbook, Melt: the Art of Macaroni and Cheese with coauthor Garrett McCord, is due out in 2013 on Little, Brown, Co.

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