Most of you will probably not believe me when I say this: I am a maccaroni & cheese virgin (I probably have even spelled this wrong and it'll all be so obvious just by this one small mistake). Well, I was until last week, anyway.
The macaroni (or macheroni) I know from my childhood were more like penne (longer, thicker, with a bigger cavity), but a straight cut (I'll admit here and now to not knowing my pasta enough to tell you what they really were). And I didn't like them much, really only because I wasn't keen on the air in them. You may be rolling around your kitchen floor with laughter upon reading this, but it is something I am not ashamed to admit and if you think about it, it makes total sense: not only do the tubes not fill up with sauce enough so that the pasta-sauce ratio is forever compromised, they also cool down far too quickly due to the fact that more of it is exposed to air... and there's nothing worse than cold pasta. Except for overcooked, cold pasta.
(Cannelloni are a different matter, however, the hollow being so large that you deliberately stuff them, therefore restoring the balance between flavour-carrier and carbs. But they're also horrid when they're cold.)
And these macaroni? I don't remember seeing anything like them back home. Ever. Overcoming all my initial reservations, I have to say that the air in them is relatively unintrusive, with the holes being so small, so I'll let it pass.
Granted, making this epitome of a student lunch/dinner/breakfast (in North America at least) and topping it with freshly cooked lobster is hardly like eating live scorpions... but it did take a hot, young Austrian chef in NY City for me to try it! And I did enjoy this dish immensely. It must taste very different from the freeze-dried contents of some cardboard box and it somehow defeats me how anyone would have trouble making this from scratch - cook pasta, stir in some cream & cheese (if you're too lazy to make the béchamel) et voila!
Daniel Angerer of Klee Brasserie in NY, NY makes his béchamel with the addition of fried onions, I am almost tempted to call this daring... no, but seriously, who'd tamper with something like béchamel? It's like making hot chocolate with water instead of milk, but tastes much better ;-) Will I make this again? Not sure. I do understand what they're trying to do with this recipe - somehow bringing back some childhood favourites, a bit tongue in cheek, and adding some luxury... something that screams NY at me! My first experience of this trend was eating quesadillas with confit de canard at Nuevo Mexicano restaurant Sueños. Not such a sexy combination in hindsight.
If I'll ever make macaroni and cheese again, it would be following this recipe, but maybe not paired with lobster - I could give it the Austrian treatment by stirring in some pumpkin seed oil and topping with crispy bacon or just let it be itself. Comfort food doesn't need a gourmet twist, or does it?
Macaroni & cheese with lobster*
1 live lobster of ca. 1.5 kg (or 2 lobster tails)**
40 g emmental cheese (grated)
40 g gruyère (grated)
40 g parmesan (grated)
400 g macaroni or other tubular pasta
1 tbsp chopped chives (plus more for decorating)
For the béchamel:
30 g butter
1 small onion (finely chopped)
60 g flour
220 ml milk (warmed)
Cook the lobster (or tails) in boiling water for 15 minutes, then drain and shell. Keep the flesh warm.
Cook the pasta to package instructions.
Prepare the béchamel: melt the butter, fry the onions in it until soft, but not browning. Stir in the flour, then take off the heat and gradually whisk in the milk, making sure to avoid any lumps from forming. Put back on the stove and gently reheat and let thicken - constantly stirring as you go. Season to taste.
To assemble, stir the béchamel into the pasta, then add the cheese and chives.
Arrange on plates, cut the lobster in slices or bite-size chunks, place on top of the maccaroni, then decorate with chives. Serve with a salad on the side, if you wish.
* Based on a recipe by Daniel Angerer of Klee Brasserie in Wienerin kocht, April 2007
** If using live lobster (which tastes infintely better!), place the animal in the freezer for 30 minutes before cooking them, in order to numb it.