So I decided to make macaroni and cheese from scratch myself in the fashion I've enjoyed at restaurants here in San Francisco. In keeping with San Francisco restaurant tradition it had to have goat cheese, exotic mushrooms and truffles in it — I probably should have found a way to sneak in fois gras, but since we had a vegetarian coming over for dinner I decided to keep it simple.
After far too brief googling, printed three recipes, discarded two and settled on the one from What We're Eating for "Orgasmic Mac 'n' Cheese" - with white truffle oil, crimini and shitake mushrooms and a variety of cheeses.
I adapted the recipe somewhat. I used cheeses I had already (or like a lot) and replaced the crushed red pepper flakes with red chili powder.
1.5 cups sliced crimini mushrooms
1.5 cups sliced shitake mushrooms
2 tbsp olive oil (the original recipe suggested bacon fat, not an option for me this time)
1.5 tbsp cider vinegar (the original used sherry vinegar, I guessed and substituted)
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
3 cups whole milk (warmed)
3 oz appenzeller cheese (grated)
2 oz emmental cheese (grated)
2 oz gruyère cheese (grated, for sauce)
3 oz gruyère cheese (grated, for topping)
5 oz chevre cheese (crumbed)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp fresh rosemary (minced)
1 tsp fresh sage (minced)
0.25 tsp red chili powder
2 tbsp white truffle oil (the original recipe said 2-3 tbsp, I think 2 is plenty)
4 oz panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
10 oz elbow pasta (mostly cooked, still slightly firm)
Sauté the the mushrooms in the olive oil till they're cooked and starting to caramelize (about 7-10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper, add the vinegar and reduce till it has evaporated completely. Set aside
Herb, cheese and truffle béchamel sauce
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour and whisk for 30 seconds. Add the herbs and chili powder and sauté for another 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and gradually add the warm milk (to keep it from forming lumps). Return it to the heat and bring it to a simmer. Add the cheese (except for 3 oz of gruyère we're keeping for the topping) gradually, ensuring it all melts and disolves. Remove from heat and stir in the truffle oil.
Combine panko and 3 oz of gruyère in a bowl, mixing well with your hands.
Bring it all together
Combine the cooked pasta, mushrooms and sauce in a large bowl. Mix it well so that it all seems evenly distributed. Put it in a baking dish - I used an 11 inch ceramic dish. Cover the top with the topping. I set it aside till soon before dinner. Pre-heat the oven to 400F, put the dish on an upper shelf of the oven till the top is golden and the cheese sauce is bubbly - about 15-20 minutes.
I was worried that it would be too truffley but it turned out to be pretty much perfect. Everyone loved it. Next time, when I don't have vegetarians I'll add bacon or pancetta.