Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

Having just written a somewhat ambivalent love letter to cheese in my last post, I was craving something warm and comforting for dinner, like macaroni and cheese. Oh wait. That would negate everything I just said.

However, I have been kicking around a vegan macaroni and cheese idea for a few months. Ever since I made the perfectly creamy and delicious cauliflower and fennel gratin for Thanksgiving, I have been wanting to apply this to a baked macaroni and cheese. After I found whole wheat elbow macaroni at Whole Foods, it's just been a matter of when. Coating whole wheat macaroni in a hemp milk b├ęchamel, and topping it with almond bread crumbs is the closest thing I can imagine to a non-dairy mac and cheese. I’m not going to tell you that this tastes just like macaroni and cheese. It doesn’t. Is it creamy on the inside, crunchy on the top, and hot and bubbly out of the oven? Yes! Sometimes, it’s not about making a perfect one-to-one substitution. Rather, it’s about creating a feeling, and a food experience. This macaroni and cheese satisfies my craving for a big bowl of creamy noodles. It recreates the experience of taking a big pot of mac and cheese goodness out of the oven and reveling in the homemade comfort. And for me, this is enough.

1 pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons non dairy butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups non dairy milk (I like hemp or almond milk)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup cashews
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup almonds processed into crumbs
2 cups bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 350┬║.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the macaroni until it is almost done. Drain and set aside.

Spread the bread crumbs and almond crumbs in a single layer on a sheet pan. Bake in the oven until golden and toasted. Remove and set aside.

In a food processor, blend the cashews and garlic into small crumbs. Add the olive oil and blend into a paste. With the processor on, add the hot water until it forms a smooth cream.

Heat the milk in a small sauce pan. In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook for two to three minutes. Gradually add the warm milk to the roux, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Stir until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Add the cashew cream and thoroughly incorporate. Add the cayenne pepper and salt and pepper to taste. Add the macaroni to the sauce and stir until the noodles are coated. Transfer to a greased oven proof dish, and top with bread crumbs. Bake until hot and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

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