Many of us at Macworld are fans of Alton Brown, host of the funny and educational Good Eats on TV's Food Network. (He also hosted the recent Iron Chef USA revival show.) But Brown is also a fan of Apple and the Mac. So when I mentioned to him in January that we were trying to do a yearlong celebration of the Mac, he offered to whip up a brand-new recipe incorporating apples and "mac" -- macaroni, that is.
I am not an apple fan. Yes, I'm a Mac fan. But the fruit has never really done it for me. I don't mind the eating so much as the aftertaste. It's unpleasant. But, hey, AB had made the offer and I was willing to go along with him.
A few months later, AB's recipe arrived. And so, as the instigator of this process, I set about making it. On my first try I kind of, sort of... failed. It tasted good later, in leftovers, but it was a gooey mess after cooking. The second time I got it right.
First off, yes, I did end up liking it. The Gorgonzola cheese adds a surprising savory flavor to the mac and cheese, and the apples sweeten it. It's a great combo. (And yes, I did follow AB's instructions and used penne pasta, but I'm sure real macaroni would work just as well.)
When you're making the dish, the first thing I noticed is that how you sauté your apples will have a major impact. If you sauté them per AB's recipe, they'll be noticeable in the dish, a texture a bit different from the pasta. If you like that sort of thing -- and most reasonable people do -- follow his instructions and stop sautéing the apples once they're just beginning to become tender. If you're a freakshow like me, and prefer that everything in the world be uniformly textured, you might want to cook 'em a bit longer.
Now to the main event, the place where I failed in my first attempt: the roux. To get the cheese sauce to hold together, you need to whisk flour into a bubbling pool of melted butter for five minutes. Here are the tips:
• First, don't measure the flour. Weigh it. Use a scale. Find a scale. If you measure out 1-1/4 ounces of flour in a measuring cup you will not have enough. It's more like a third or a half of a cup.
• Second, keep whisking. Whisk for the full five minutes, creating a hot, floury, buttery mass. And when you start adding the milk gradually, keep whisking! Whisk as if your life depended on it. Because without a properly whisked roux, your mac and cheese will be liquidy and nasty, not the creamy goodness that makes for good cheesy mac.
• Third, be prepared to broil. When I made this dish, the top layer never really did brown. But my oven's broiler did the trick, making a great golden-brown top that was quite pleasant to eat, too.
Enjoy the recipe!