fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese

This Easter Sunday was a beautiful warm sunny day here in New York so Russell and I spent the bulk of our day enjoying the outdoors.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

We woke up bright and early (thanks to our little dog Betty) and decided to go for breakfast a few subway stops away and to take a quiet leisurely walk home. When we got back we took the pups out to the dog park for a while, and then came home and spent most of the rest of the day in our back yarden (combination yard/ garden, just indulge me).  Once the sun started to go down and the air turned a little chilly, we decided it was time to come up with a plan for dinner.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

Since it was a holiday I thought we deserved something a bit rich and indulgent even though we weren’t celebrating with family or friends. Considering that most of the day was behind us, I also wanted it to be something that I could have on the table and in our bellies in just about an hour or so. I thought a nice hearty pasta dish would be the ideal thing to round out the day, but since I wanted it to be indulgent and creamy, I knew cheese would be the prefect addition. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I should let the cheese take center stage, while still loading it up with all the other hearty tasty things I wanted to add.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

I often like to make a quick “healthy-ish” pasta dinner with chicken and broccoli and whatever else sounds good, but after the addition of some bacon and loads of cheese, this dish seemed to stray out of that category. Since it doesn’t have a crunchy crumbly baked topping, it also doesn’t quite feel like a traditional homemade mac & cheese. It seems to fall somewhere in between the two, but since it does have a rich and creamy béchamel cheese sauce, I think that “fully loaded” stovetop mac & cheese is the perfect name for it.  Whatever you want to call it, it is definitely less than healthy, and completely delicious.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

Crisping the bacon on its own allows you to render the fat to later make the béchamel. Cubing the uncooked chicken helps it cook faster while remaining flavorful and tender. Roasting the broccoli in the oven instead of, say, boiling it with the pasta, keeps it from tasting waterlogged and soggy and helps it absorb as much of the creamy sauce as possible. Slicing open and roasting the grape tomatoes concentrates their flavor and sweetness and gives them an almost sun-dried quality. Of course, if you wanted to save some time and avoid turning on the oven, you could boil the broccoli with the pasta or steam it while the pasta cooked, and you could use chopped sun-dried tomatoes in place of the roasted fresh ones. Either way, if you work smartly and efficiently you can finish this dish in just about an hour. It does require a bit of work but none of the steps are overly complicated or time-consuming, so I think it would be an excellent weeknight meal.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

I wasn’t sure that the chicken or the tomatoes would marry well with the sharp cheddar cheese, but my concerns were totally for nothing. This meal is totally delicious and really hearty and filing, and was the perfect way to finish of our lazy Easter Sunday. The creamy sharp cheese gives it an almost tangy quality that combines really well with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the umami saltiness of the bacon. If you cook the pasta to be al dente this dish has a really nice variety of textures as well as flavors. The chicken is tender but with some substance, the pasta has just a bit of bite, the roasted broccoli has a little bit of crunch, the bacon adds some welcome crispiness, and the perfect creaminess of the cheese sauce rounds the whole meal out.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there are some leftovers that seem to be calling my name.

fully loaded stovetop mac & cheese | Brooklyn Homemaker

Fully Loaded Stovetop Mac & Cheese

1 pint washed grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
1 large bunch broccoli, chopped into bite size florets
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
4 oz bacon
1 lb skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
8 oz white cheddar cheese, grated
1 lb (16 oz) shell pasta (or another shape if you want)

Preheat oven to 400 and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. On a parchment lined sheet pan, arrange halved tomatoes cut side up, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and arrange on another parchment lined sheet. Roast both for 20 to 25 minutes, until cooked and brown but not burnt or dried out.

While the vegetables roast, slice your bacon against the grain into small thin strips and cook in a heavy skillet over medium high heat until browned and crispy, probably about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel lined plate. Drain most of the grease off into a glass measuring cup, leaving about a tablespoon to cook your chicken. Cut the chicken into bite sized cubes, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove and transfer to paper towel lined plate with bacon.

Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Drain and return to pasta pot along with cooked tomatoes, broccoli, chicken and bacon. If desired, reserve about a tablespoon or two of bacon to garnish.

Meanwhile, measure out 2 tablespoons of bacon fat and return to the pan, discarding anything left (or save for later use). If you don’t have enough, make up the difference with butter. Add onion and cook until just beginning to brown. Add the flour, whisk until well combined, and cook over medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Slowly add milk, a little at a time, whisking out any lumps. Cook until thick and bubbly, probably 5 to 8 minutes or so, whisking regularly to prevent lumps. Once the sauce is thick, turn the heat off and add the cheese. Stir in until fully melted and well combined. Pour sauce over pasta and stir stir stir until everything is well combined. Plate and garnish with a little crumbled bacon if desired.


Fettuccine with Roasted Mushrooms, Brown Butter & Sage

When I first met my husband he was a really picky eater. This was very difficult for me to deal with, being a relatively adventurous eater and lover of variety, but I tried to handle it as best I could. He even used to insist that he was “allergic” to a few certain foods, but over time I began to suspect that it was all in his head. He claimed to be allergic to eggs, but had no reaction if they were mixed into a cake or custard. For some reason his “allergy” was only an issue if the eggs were on their own, and when I pressed him on his symptoms he couldn’t really come up with any. Finally I was able convince him that he just didn’t like these foods, and didn’t actually have any real food allergies. He still won’t eat eggs, but at least now he admits that he just doesn’t like them.

fettuccine with roasted mushrooms, brown butter & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

One of the foods I was most upset about his being “allergic” to was mushrooms. I love mushrooms so much that when I considered a long term relationship with Russell, I mourned losing them. Once I was able to convince him he wasn’t allergic to them, and I got him to try them, surprise! He loved them! We eat mushrooms all the time, and as weird as this may sound, I couldn’t be more thrilled about it.

The other night we went out with friends for dinner to celebrate Russell’s birthday. After a few minutes looking at the menu, Russell ordered a dish that wasn’t much more than sautéed mushrooms with fresh pappardelle pasta and butter. Of course, I had to try a bite, and I thought the sauce was perfectly simple and light, but was just a bit one-note to me. I decided, after my third Manhattan, that I could improve on this dish. I loved that it wasn’t overdone with cream and wine and cheese and stock, but thought it could just use a little boost. I started thinking that the best way to bring out the fresh lightness of the sauce would be just a bit of fresh herbs and maybe a hint of lemon to brighten it up.

fettuccine with roasted mushrooms, brown butter & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

A few days later I decided to go for it and see what I could do. I started with store-bought fresh pasta, going for fettuccine instead of pappardelle. If you have a pasta maker and want to go crazy, by all means. Homemade pasta would elevate this dish even more, but part of what I like about this recipe is how quick and easy it is to prepare. I think store-bought fresh pasta is a great way to get that homemade taste without the work, but I’m sure dried pasta would be fine too. For the sauce I used about a pound of mushrooms, opting for a mix of trumpet and Portobello for a nice varied earthy flavor. If all you can find is Portobellos they’ll work great on their own, but I wouldn’t use white button mushrooms because they’d probably be a bit bland.

The restaurant used butter for the base of their sauce, and I decided a nice way to make the flavor richer would be to brown the butter. When you brown butter, you’re essentially cooking the milk solids that are present in your butter, giving it a wonderful nuttiness and complexity. Brown butter is also great for baking.  Try it with cookies sometime, you’ll thank me. After the butter browned I added some finely chopped shallots and let them saute a bit to add some caramelized sweetness. Right before finishing the dish I added some fresh sage and lemon zest and tossed everything together.

fettuccine with roasted mushrooms, brown butter & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

I have a tendency to overdo meals a lot. I can take a meal that should take 45 minutes to prepare and spend the better part of an evening making it. This meal however, is anything but overdone. I am so proud of myself for letting this meal remain simple and easy. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a new era for me. An era where I can start dinner after work and have it on the table before bed time! If you work efficiently, from start to finish this meal can be ready to go in 30 minutes. Brown the butter while the mushrooms roast, saute the shallots while the pasta water comes to a boil, chiffonade the sage while the pasta is cooking. Use your time wisely. If you aren’t familiar with the term chiffonade, you basically take your sage leaves, roll them all up like a cigar, and slice them into super thin strips. This technique works really well for basil too.

fettuccine with roasted mushrooms, brown butter & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

There are not a million different things going on in this pasta dish, but every ingredient gets special treatment to make sure it imparts as much flavor as possible. Roasting the mushrooms concentrates their earthy flavor and makes them taste almost meaty. Browning the butter adds a nutty richness, and sauteing the shallots in the brown butter gives the sauce a caramelized sweetness. Fresh sage and lemon zest brighten the dish without overpowering it, adding a summery freshness that’s much-needed in this cold weather. Overall the simplicity of this dish is what makes it so tasty. So simple, so elegant, SOO delicious.

fettuccine with roasted mushrooms, brown butter & sage | Brooklyn Homemaker

Fettuccine with Roasted Mushrooms, Brown Butter & Sage

1 lb fresh mushrooms (I used a mix of Portobello and trumpet)
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
5-6 sage leaves
zest of one lemon
16 oz fresh or 12 oz dry fettuccine

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Fill a large stockpot with water and a tablespoon of salt, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. While oven is preheating and water is coming to a boil, roughly chop your mushrooms. Toss in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, spread in an even layer on a parchment lined sheet pan and roast for 10-15 minutes or until most moisture has cooked off. While mushrooms are roasting, heat butter in a large skillet until it begins to brown and smell slightly nutty, this should take about 5 minutes. Add shallots, season with salt and pepper, and saute until they begin to caramelize. While pasta is cooking, add roasted mushrooms to sauce and saute for 5 minutes or until pasta is cooked. While pasta cooks, chiffonade your sage and stir it into the sauce with the lemon zest. Add cooked pasta to sauce and toss with tongs until well coated with an even distribution of mushrooms.