Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Trip To Cajun Country

Good evening everyone! Classic mac and cheese has to be one of the all time great comfort foods. Creamy cheese over soft pasta noodles, it’s culinary simplicity (and indulgence) at its best. Last weekend, while perusing a few sources for new recipe ideas, I stumbled across a variation of the classic comfort food that would take this dish to a whole new place. Tonight we’re taking mac and cheese to Cajun country.

The Recipe: Cajun Mac and Cheese
Original Recipe Found In: Food Network Magazine (March 2012 Issue)

What You’ll Need:

12 Ounces Wagon Wheel Pasta
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6 Ounces Andouille Sausage (Diced)*
2 Bunches Scallions (Finely diced)
1 Red Bell Pepper (Chopped)
1 Tablespoon Cajun Seasoning
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
2 Cups Whole Milk
8 Ounces Sharp Cheddar Cheese

* Andouille sausage is French in origin but is better associated with Cajun style cooking. Andouille (pronounced an-DOO-wee) is typically made of a blend of ground pork (typically stomach and intestines), peppers, wine and other seasonings. It’s also known as ‘hot link’ sausage and is famous for its heavily seasoned flavor. Andouille shouldn’t be too hard to find at your local grocery store either, simply look in the same area breakfast sausages and bacon are sold. We ended up going with a slightly healthier option of andouille – chicken andouille, which is made from ground chicken breast in place of ground pork intestines. Swapping the fatty pork product for chicken is a good way to cut out some excess calories and fat.

To begin preparing this dish, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook, following the package instructions until the noodles are al dente. Because of added steps later on in the recipe, you may want to pull the pasta out of the water about 1 minute prior to the package instructions.

While your pasta is cooking, add the olive oil to a large (12 inch) non stick skillet over medium high heat. Warm the oil until it begins to shimmer lightly. Add the diced sausage and cook, stirring occasionally until the sausage begins to brown. This should take around 2 minutes. Next, stir in the scallions and red bell pepper and cook until they soften slightly. This should take an additional three minutes.

Add the Cajun seasoning to the skillet, making sure to stir well to distribute the seasoning evenly. Finally, add the flour to the skillet and mix until everything is well combined. The mixture should become a thick, paste like substance at this point. Allow this mixture to simmer for about 2 minutes before whisking in the milk. Stir until the flour has evenly dissolved into the milk mixture. Allow the sauce to simmer lightly for 5 to 7 minutes or until the sauce has thickened and has become smooth.

Once you pasta has nearly finished cooking (again, about 1 minute from directed time) drain the pasta and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the finished pasta to the skillet with the sauce mixture along with the shredded cheese. It’s easier to incorporate the cheese if you add it in small handfuls, rather than all at once. Simply toss the pasta in the sauce mixture to make sure the pasta is evenly covered in sauce and the cheese has completely melted. Toss and incorporate the cheese until everything has been added and the cheese has completely melted. You may thin out the sauce with the reserved cooking water if you prefer a thinner sauce or you find your sauce is slightly thicker than you’d prefer. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 1 minute and serve!

The Results:

This was a unique twist on a classic dish. The red bell pepper and andouille sausage added a nice ‘pop’ to the creamy and smooth cheese base of the dish. This was not our first foray with Cajun seasoning, so we knew what to expect – a little extra spice without too much heat added overall. While the Cajun seasoning on top of the andouille did pack a little heat, the cheesy sauce neutralized any overwhelming heat nicely.

Wagon wheel pasta works fantastically in this recipe because its design (I.E. the wheel ‘spokes’) grabs a hold of the cheese and carries the sausage bits, bell peppers and scallions nicely. If you wanted, you could substitute the wagon wheel pasta for another form of hearty pasta, such as shells, but wagon wheel is the preferred pasta for this dish.

That’s all we have for you this week. Thank you, as always, for stopping by and sharing in the adventure of cooking with us. We’re back on Monday with another edition of Around The Culinary World. Until then,


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