Mains, Meatless, Pasta, Quick Meals, Recipes

Saffron Mac & Cheese

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saffron mac and cheese

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 – 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 500 grams / 18 oz dry macaroni
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water
  • 125 grams / 4.5oz sour cream
  • 220 grams / 8 oz cheddar
  • 80 grams / 3 oz gruyere
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp saffron
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Essential Elements & Modifications

Roux base for cream sauce

A roux is a 1:1 ratio of starch and fat used to thicken liquids into sauces. It’s the base for a variety of cream based sauces like bechamel as well as gravies and even soups like gumbo.

A roux is a really good foundational element for a cream based pasta sauce because it is a very stable emulsion.

In the culinary arts, an emulsion is a mixture of two liquids that would ordinarily not mix together, like oil and vinegar. The Spruce Eats

Unlike a purely cream based sauce, a roux prevents the fat from separating from the liquid.

Fat: Most commonly butter but you could also make a roux with other fats like lard or even olive oil.

Starch: Most commonly wheat flour. In a snap you could also substitute a cornstarch slurry and there are also options for a gluten-free roux although the texture will be different than wheat flour. There’s a reason wheat flour is most commonly used.

Milk: Most commonly dairy milk but you can substitute a variety of plant-based milks like oat or soy without a very significant variation in texture. Likewise if you were making a gravy you would substitute vegetable or meat stock for the milk.

Egg yolk: The egg yolk adds richness and oomph to the final dish but it is entirely optional and omitting it will not significantly impact the final texture or taste.

Alternative to roux: Learning to make a roux is a foundational cooking skill to master. If for any reason you need an alternative, you can make a dairy cream based sauce without the roux.

For example you can heat 2 cup of cream in a skillet, add the cheese and then heat over medium-low heat stirring frequently until reduced to desired consistency.

Another relatively simpler option is to melt 1 cup of mascarpone cheese in a skillet and add the cheddar and other flavouring cheeses to it. This will give a nice creamy consistency. Salt as needed.

While these options will produce a nice creamy sauce and might be slightly faster than making a roux, they do not create as stable an emulsion and will often separate on subsequent heating (irrespective of whether it’s done in the oven or the microwave).

Other great pasta recipes:

Cheeses

Of course a variety of cheeses can go into a mac and cheese. Cheddar doesn’t even have to be one of them – although it is an excellent option.

The only consideration is that the cheese melts homogeneously so that it blends into the emulsion. it’s not always easy to know which cheeses will incorporate although it’s only happened to me once that a cheese formed chunky strings instead of melting through.

If you want to use pre-shredded cheese be mindful that there is a trade-off between convenience and texture. Pre-shredded cheeses are often coated in anti-caking powders which can prevent the cheese shreds from incorporating properly into the emulsion.

At the end of the day it is unlikely to be a very significant effect, but if you’re really rushed for time even rough cutting your cheese into big chunks and letting it melt down all the way can save you some hands on time.

Saffron

Saffron has an aroma until any other spice. There’s a reason it’s the most expensive spice in the world and it isn’t just the labour intensive process required to harvest it – it’s the distinctive and complex aroma. Saffron is earthy like truffle, with warm notes and a sharp but subtle pungency.

The addition of saffron to cheese and cream based dishes has its origins in Italian cuisine. The famous risotto alla Milanese which was first mentioned in 1574 and itself is derived from Arab and Jewish influences in Italy.

Combining saffron with your mac and cheese creates a unique taste experience. It can’t be replicated by substituting another spice without it becoming a completely different dish.

pot of saffron

Directions

  • Pre-heat oven to 200 C / 400 F degrees and boil pasta per package directions in well-salted water to al dente consistency
  • Melt butter in a large oven safe skillet on medium heat. The skillet should be large enough to hold all of the cooked pasta
  • Add flour and stir until incorporated to make a roux
  • Slowly add milk ¼ cup at a time stirring continuously to create an emulsion of fat, flour and liquid
  • Rough cut the cheeses and add them to the pan
  • Whisk together the hot pasta water and sour cream and very slowly add 1/8 of a cup at a time to the cheese sauce. If you add them too quickly the cheese can seize and make the emulsion separate
  • Add drained pasta to skillet and mix to coat it evenly with the sauce
  • Taste it – add salt if necessary. I didn’t add any salt besides the salted pasta water
  • Add the saffron and stir until incorporated and then add the egg yolk and mix it in very rapidly
  • Sprinkle the breadcrumbs in an even layer over the macaroni
  • Bake on the middle oven rack for 15 – 20 minutes or until the breadcrumbs begin to brown

saffron mac and cheese

Notes

Oven safe skillet, preferably cast-iron

Print

Saffron Mac & Cheese

saffron mac and cheese

A sophisticated take on the classic mac and cheese. This saffron mac and cheese takes a cue from risotto alla Milanese, Milanese style risotto that combines rich cheese with fragrant saffron. Once you try it you’ll see – these flavours belong together!

  • Author: Cristina
  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x
  • Category: Pasta
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Global
Scale

Ingredients

  • 500 grams / 18oz dry macaroni or other pasta of your choice
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water
  • 125 grams / 4.5oz sour cream
  • 220 grams / 8oz cheddar
  • 80 grams / 3oz gruyere
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp saffron
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Instructions

  • Pre-heat oven to 200 C / 400 F degrees and boil pasta per package directions in well-salted water to al dente consistency
  • Melt butter in a large oven safe skillet on medium heat. The skillet should be large enough to hold all of the cooked pasta
  • Add flour and stir until incorporated to make a roux
  • Slowly add milk ¼ cup at a time stirring continuously to create an emulsion of fat, flour and liquid
  • Rough cut the cheeses and add them to the pan
  • Whisk together the hot pasta water and sour cream and very slowly add 1/8 of a cup at a time to the cheese sauce. If you add them too quickly the cheese can seize and make the emulsion separate
  • Add drained pasta to skillet and mix to coat it evenly with the sauce
  • Taste it – add salt if necessary. I didn’t add any salt besides the salted pasta water
  • Add the saffron and stir until incorporated and then add the egg yolk and mix it in very rapidly
  • Sprinkle the breadcrumbs in an even layer over the macaroni
  • Bake on the middle oven rack for 15 – 20 minutes or until the breadcrumbs begin to brown

Keywords: pasta, mac and cheese, macaroni and cheese, cheese, cheddar, mozzarella, saffron spice in pasta, saffron in pasta, Milanese risotto

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