Quick. What’s the busiest area of your supermarket? If your experience is anything like mine, it’s the deli department. No matter what time of day, there are invariably shoppers lined up against the long, gleaming glass case, tiny numbered tickets in hands, waiting their turn to peer in closer to pick from the dozens of cold cuts lined up inside. They may drive like speed devils and sigh as they check their watches when stuck in traffic, but there is never a more orderly nor patient crowd than customers who want their deli fix. It’s an American tradition.
Nothing has changed since my German grandmother would wait her own turn at a small, old-fashioned neighborhood delicatessen. Every Saturday morning, between giving piano lessons, her ritual was the same: stop for a bagful of cold cuts and some pickles from the barrel. She would then head over to the bakery for an assortment of rolls and breads. Back at her charming little clapboard house, the lunch table was already set, and the coffee was ready to be poured. Serving was never formal, with sliced cheeses and meats splayed in brown paper wraps all over the wooden surface. Jars of mustard and other condiments were arranged in a cluster with the pickles. My mother tells me this was always the way of the household, even when she and her sisters were kids. Tradition is the cozy and secure tie that binds the generations, even when the world is wild with modern technologies.
Macaroni and cheese is an American tradition, too. Is there any dish more comforting than a bowl of elbow noodles glowing in melted cheese under a mantle of crumbs? I’d like to survey the customers at the deli counter, to see what they’d think. They wouldn’t have to give up their sandwiches, either – not with the recipe I have created for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board: individual ramekins of Muenster and macaroni, flavored with mustard and bits of gherkin pickles, covered in fragrant caraway rye crust. Preparing homemade macaroni and cheese is a patient ritual, too. And a tradition worth waiting for.
Wisconsin Muenster Cheese slices, milk, and butter.
Gherkins and mustard.
Deli-Style Macaroni and Cheese with Wisconsin Muenster Cheese, Mustard, Gherkins, and Caraway Rye Crumbs
4 slices caraway rye bread, crusts intact, torn into small pieces
4 tablespoons butter, divided
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 ounces (about 2 cups grated) Wisconsin Muenster Cheese, grated or sliced, at room temperature (keep covered to prevent drying out)
1 rounded tablespoon country-style dark mustard, preferably with seeds
1/2 cup gherkin pickles, drained and chopped
8 additional slices (about 6 ounces) Wisconsin Muenster Cheese for topping ramekins
In a blender or food processor, pulse the rye slices until even, soft crumbs form. (It may be necessary to do this in batches.) Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add bread crumbs and toss gently with a spoon to coat evenly with butter. Continue to toss crumbs and cook until they are lightly golden, barely crunchy, and the caraway seeds release their fragrance. Remove from heat and reserve.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook elbow macaroni until just al dente (about 6 minutes). Do not drain yet, but turn off heat and let pasta sit in the hot water while you prepare the cheese sauce.
In a medium saucepan, melt remaining butter over low heat. Sprinkle flour over butter and stir continuously with a spoon as the mixture forms a paste (known as a roux). Continue to stir and mash paste to cook the raw flour, about 2 minutes, then incrementally add milk, now stirring with a whisk after each addition. The paste will be lumpy at first, but will smooth and blend completely as long as you stir continuously.
Once all milk is added, stir in chili powder, salt and ground pepper. Increase heat to medium, and continue stirring until sauce starts to thicken, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Gradually add 8 ounces grated Wisconsin Muenster Cheese, stirring until fully melted after each addition. The sauce will be thicker (but still fluid) after all cheese is added, with a slightly melted-string consistency when you lift whisk from saucepan. Stir in mustard and gherkins. Turn off heat.Preheat oven to 375°F. Working quickly, drain macaroni in a large colander and rinse under hot tap water to remove extra starch. Drain well and return to pot. Stir hot cheese sauce thoroughly, then pour it over hot macaroni. Stir with a large spoon to evenly mix. Generously fill 1-cup capacity oven-safe custard cups, ramekins or miniature gratin dishes with the macaroni and cheese mixture. Top each serving with 1 slice Wisconsin Muenster Cheese, and then sprinkle with rye crumbs. Transfer dishes to a baking sheet, wiping up any scattered crumbs on sheet to avoid burning them. Position sheet on center rack of oven. Bake until cheese slices are melted and crumbs are well browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully remove from oven; ramekins will be very hot. Serve immediately.
This post was commissioned by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board as part of their 30 Days, 30 Ways with Macaroni and Cheese. Do stop by their site for a creatively different macaroni and cheese recipe featured every day during this month-long event which kicked off on January 20 to celebrate National Cheese Lover's Day.