Honeycomb macaroni w/ porky cream
” Together, each cylindrical chamber separates easily with a brisk crack where the melted cheese are harvested and mingles with the cream sauce laying bare. “
On October 22nd 2018, in the darkness of the night, I laid on my eyes on Margeaux Brasseries’s “honeycomb macaroni” for the first time, and heard destiny calling.
At first it seemed that our connection was immediate and reciprocal, even through the barrier of the computer screen, that there was an understanding without words, that we instinctively knew each other’s needs and wishes, requirements and rewards, that I knew how to make it happy, and it too, wanted to be mine. We would hit it off. We would be an item. We would hold hands at dinner parties and whisper secret jokes only we could understand. We would complete each other.
But apparently, it had other ideas.
Six days later after two catastrophic failures at making this dish, it became increasingly clear that the affection was one-directional only.
But could I blame anyone else but myself? No. Because I took it for granted. I made the classic mistake in a relationship when things felt so given, so seemingly straightforward, I forgot that it too, requires attentions to details. First time around, sounding even stupider now said out loud, I used a type of macaroni that was tree-sizes too small. If you enjoy weaving beads necklace for dinner, this is another way to pleasure yourself with. If not, it’s probably a good time to know that when macaroni is big, it’s not called macaroni anymore. It’s called ziti. Who knew.
I felt good about this new piece of knowledge. Perhaps too good. Emboldened by the sense that I had figured it all out, the second mistake was, if possible, even dumber. What had I expect from introducing a highly sticky material to another highly attractive surface? Left them alone for five minutes, I walked in on the inseparability between my old friend copper pot and my new love honey macaroni in the most interlocked position there is. What a cliche. Cliches hurt.
Two near-permanent breakups, I learnt my lessons. I gave it thoughts. I right all the wrongs. I paid the attentive devotion it deserves. Only on our third date, I bent my knees and made it a faithful proposition. And at the end of the kitchen aisle, shimmering, it stood as beautiful as I had imagined. It is named honeycomb macaroni for a good reason. Its tubular bodies, slender and uniform, huddles intimately with only gooey melted cheese as the mortar of its magnificent structure, like a bee hive made of carbs and dairy. Where in between the gaps, the cheese droops downward like thick syrup to the hot skillet in anticipation where heat, butter and starch await in forming a golden flat cap, a delicate, crispy and delicious linkage.
Such beauty doesn’t need the distraction of a loud sauce. Something simple, but thoughtful. Something understated, but not without declaration. So I “brewed” grounded and browned guanciale, the porkiest substance I know on earth, in a simple cream sauce brightened with nutmeg and cardamon. It was then strained like a tea, removed of the solid source of its deep aroma, leaving only a silky blanket of cream curiously imbued with the thickness of aged pork. Together, each cylindrical chamber separates easily with a brisk crack where the insulted cheese are harvested and mingles with the cream sauce laying bare.
It was an affair that ignited passionately, even if one-sided only, and ended in what will certainly be a lifelong companionship. Learn from my mistakes, and you will find yourself an object of your affection, too.
UPDATED ON OCT 31, 2018:
- 2 1/2" (6 cm) square of guanciale or fatty pancetta
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 2 tsp all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp ground green cardamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp ground white pepper
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 13oz/375 grams ziti macaroni (see note *)
- 1 1/2 heaping cup (150 grams) finely shredded gouda or cheddar (updated from 100 grams)
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp all-purpose flour
- PREPARE CREAM SAUCE: Dice guanciale or pancetta then place inside a food-processor. Pulse and run until ground into a sausage-like paste. You'll need 3 tbsp of it for this recipe, and keep the rest for sautéing vegetables or etc.
- In a medium pot over medium heat, cook 3 tbsp of ground pancetta or guanciale until lightly browned and a considerable amount of fat has been rendered. Add minced garlic and flour, and cook until fragrant. Whisk in whole milk, heavy cream, ground green cardamon, ground nutmeg, black and white pepper, and let simmer for about 5 minutes until thickened. DO NOT add additional salt prior to this point, because the the pancetta and guanciale will release a lot of saltiness. Whisk in the Dijon mustard and give it a taste, then re-season with more find sea salt as needed.
- If you don't mind a chunkier texture, keep the sauce as is. But if you like a silkier texture, strain the sauce over a find sieve into another pot, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can, then discard the solids. Cover the pot (to prevent a skin from forming) and set aside until needed.
- COOK THE ZITI MACARONI: Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it generously. Cook the ziti macaroni until just SHY of al dente. Drain well and transfer into a large bowl, then toss together with 1/3 cup of the cream sauce and shredded cheese, then set aside.
- Place a round mould 6" (15 cm) in diameter, or a square mould 5" (13cm) wide inside a NON-STICK skillet and place over medium heat. Add unsalted butter into the mould and whisk in 1/2 tsp of flour as the butter melts. Turn off heat. Then arrange the ziti macaroni inside the mould until it's completely filled up, make sure all the bottom tips are contacting the skillet. If there are any clumps of cheese left in the bowl, pile it on top. Return the skillet to medium-low heat, put a lid on (so the cheese melts properly), and cook until the bottom layer is golden browned and crispy, about 5 minutes. You can check by gently lifting the mound and take a peep.
- Inver the ziti macaroni together with the mould onto a warmed plate. Let the surface cool and crispy up for 30 seconds, then remove the mould. Serve immediately with the reserved cream sauce.
- This one plate should serve two people. If you want individual servings, you can cook the ziti macaroni in smaller moulds.
* This may be the most annoying issue about this recipe, finding "ziti macaroni". We're not talking about elbow macaroni here, but more like penne-size macaroni with square-cut openings instead of slanted, such as this one, or this one, or this one, or this one that is ribbed. But I couldn't find any of these in Hong Kong, and therefore had to resort to buying long uncut ziti, cook them, and cut them into identical segments which is a task I did not enjoy. So if you cannot find this specific type of pasta in the supermarket, I will highly recommend getting it from online sources.