I wasn’t going to do it, y’all. I mean, there are already three mac n’ cheese recipes on here: do we really need a fourth? But this one: this one was so good that I couldn’t keep it to myself. And since the end of Meyer season is upon us, I
rationalized considered it my civic duty to make this one again, so I could photograph it and share it with you, gentle reader.
It’s simple enough: a basic bechamel-based macaroni and cheese, with Meyer lemon zest infused in the bechamel and fresh rosemary, salt & pepper stirred into the cheese sauce. For such a simple addition, however, the change to the overall dish is dramatic: suffused with California sunshine, light and intense at the same time; earthy, grassy rosemary, bright & zesty Meyer lemon, warm and comforting pasta and cheese. It was amazing, and quite surprising to me, how much these two simple ingredients changed the whole character of the dish.
I’d be remiss if I did not thank Karen of Lemon Ladies for this recipe: not only does she grow the best Meyer lemons I’ve ever had, she sent me some gorgeous, sticky, (and massive!) rosemary stems from her magical garden by the Bay. Infuse some California sunshine into your own mac and cheese soon: you won’t regret it.
- 8 oz whole wheat macaroni
- splash olive oil
- 2 and ¾ cups whole milk
- zest of 2 medium Meyer lemons
- 2 fat stems rosemary, leaves plucked and finely minced (about 2 tbsp)
- ½ tsp salt
- several grinds black pepper
- 3 tbsp (1 ½ oz) butter, plus extra for buttering a casserole dish
- ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 4 oz (about 1 cup) Gruyère cheese, grated
- 4 oz (about 1 cup) sharp cheddar, grated
- 2 ½ oz (a generous ½ cup) Parmesan or other hard cheese, grated
- Cook pasta. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add macaroni and a splash of olive oil; replace cover until water returns to a brisk boil. Boil, partially covered, until slightly more firm than al dente, about 4 minutes. Drain, rinse thoroughly under cold water in order to stop cooking, and toss with another splash of olive oil. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a casserole (I use a 2-qt Staub roasting dish here).
- Make bechamel. In a small saucepan, combine milk and Meyer lemon zest. Heat to a bare simmer over medium-low heat. While the milk is warming, melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. When butter foam subsides, add the flour; whisking thoroughly, cook for 1 minute. Slowly add the hot milk, in 3 or 4 batches, while whisking constantly. Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the bechamel is bubbling thickly, about 5 – 8 minutes.
- Make cheese sauce. Remove bechamel from the heat. Stir in rosemary, salt and pepper. Add about two-thirds of each grated cheese. Stir until the cheese is all melted and the sauce looks uniform. Add the cooked macaroni and stir to coat. Taste sauce and adjust lemon, rosemary or salt & pepper to taste.
- Assemble & bake. Transfer macaroni mixture to the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese. Bake in the reheated oven until golden brown, about 30 – 35 minutes. Cool about 10 minutes before serving.
- Can’t source Meyer lemons? Try using the zest of one regular lemon and one orange or tangerine.
- This recipe obviously lends itself to other citrus zest + herb combinations. I’d stick to a woody herb, like thyme, savory or sage. I like to toss in a bit or orange zest with the Meyer now & then. I also think Kaffir lime & red chile flakes could be fabulous. Thin slivers of kumquat intrigue me. I’m not so sure about grapefruit, though.
- I really like the Gruyère in this recipe, but of course, you can use any semi-hard, melting cheeses you like (or have on hand).
Refrigerated, for up to 1 week.