It’s the ultimate comfort food. Or in this case, my boyfriend’s ultimate pre-race food.
A typical afternoon conversation starts off with me asking Scott, “What do you want for dinner?” and he always responds, “Food.”
Except he had a race the next morning so he said, “Pasta.”
Scott is a pretty competitive runner. He ran cross-country in high school and college. One of his high school records was broken by an Olympian, so I guess you could say he’s pretty fast. Knowing his favorite pre-race carboload of choice was that crap in a blue box (ahem), I suggested I make some homemade mac and cheese for him. He immediately perked up. “What if we did like, pepper jack cheese? And smoked it on the grill?!”
Anytime he shows genuine interest in his dinner, I can’t help but get a little excited myself. We grabbed a block of Cabot Hot Habanero cheese and I got to work.
Now I must confess, this is not what I’d call a quick recipe. But it is delicious and so worth the effort.
We start with a roux, which is just equal parts butter or oil, and flour. It will thicken your sauce and make you very happy.
Naturally, I used whole wheat flour. After that has cooked to a lovely light brown color, you add in warm milk and get to stirring! You don’t have to stir 100% of the time, but you do not want this to scorch on the bottom. So the higher the heat, the more frequently you will have to stir.
PS, don’t forget to cook your pasta while you’re stirring. I used a whole wheat blend (someone demanded fast-releasing carbs…), but I of course recommend a 100% whole-wheat pasta. Cook it just long enough that it still has plenty of chew to it, as it will cook more on the grill.
As soon as your sauce begins to thicken up, add in all that amazing cheese. Don’t worry if your milk doesn’t seem to thicken as quickly as you want; it will as it cools and the cheese will thicken it like crazy.
Please go through the trouble of using block cheese for this. The stabilizers that keep pre-grated cheese separated will make your sauce feel chalky. If you don’t want to spend 30 minutes juggling a cheese grater while stirring your sauce, you can do what I did: Use the food processor (and make the boyfriend clean it afterward).
I used half of that Hot Habanero and half colby-jack I already had.
And that’s it for the sauce! Now you can mix it in with your pasta in a nice, big cast iron skillet. I suppose you could also use a disposable aluminum tray.
Now for the fun part. Set your grill up for smoking at about 300 degrees. Once it’s ready to go, plop that bad boy in there for about 30 minutes.
(I sprinkled dried spent grain on top from our last homebrew instead of the traditional breadcrumbs)
Once some of that delicious smoky flavor has been soaked up into that delicious mac and cheese, you might want to pop it under the broiler for a few moments if you’re the type who likes a crunchy top. I most certainly am.
Scott ate this straight, injecting as much carb into his system as quickly as possible. I decided to enjoy mine with steamed kale and grilled grape tomatoes.
Surprisingly delicious combo!
And then for dinner tonight, I enjoyed some leftover with grilled chicken thighs and onions, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley….and maybe a touch of feta.
Smoked Mac and Cheese
Serves 4-6, depending on if you bulk it up or if someone is carboloading.
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
- 3 cups milk, warmed
- 8 oz cheese, your favorite combination, grated
- 1 box whole wheat pasta, cooked and drained
- any additional mix-ins you desire (sausage, jalapeno, mushrooms, roasted red pepper, etc…)
- Create a roux by melting the butter (you want your pot to be at least 4 qt). Add the flour and cook over medium low heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until cooked and light brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add milk a little at a time, stirring between additions to smooth out any lumps. Stir occasionally, being careful the sauce doesn’t start boiling. A tiny simmer around the edge of the pot is okay, but you will need to stir constantly. Don’t forget to stir up anything that might stick to the bottom of the pot. This step will take 20-30 minutes.
- Once the sauce has thickened up enough to coat the wooden spoon, stir in your cheeses a handful at a time. Feel free to sample and add more if desired.
- Add pasta to pot and stir to coat. Transfer to cast iron skillet for smoking. If you’re adding any additional mixins, now’s the time to toss those in too.
- Smoke the mac n cheese on the grill, covered, at about 300 degrees for 30-45 minutes. The longer it smokes, the smokier it gets. Conversely, you could put this in a regular baking dish and throw it in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, but where’s the fun in that?
- If you want to crunch up the top, run the dish under the broiler for a few minutes. Keep close watch — cheese loves burning up!
- Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before diving into the cheesy wonderland.
- Run a 10-mile race tomorrow.