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.
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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.
Ann ROctober 29, 2018 at 5:42 PM
I admire your effort and the recipe sounds delicious but too much structured beauty takes away from the joy of eating it (why mess it up! let’s just stare and marvel at it.)
BeccaNovember 7, 2018 at 9:55 AM
I disagree, I think that part of the beauty of this recipe and others are the structure and when cooking it i love the background information…this is why i love these blogs
Lynn ROctober 29, 2018 at 9:03 PM
So you add the cheese in step 5 after arranging the ziti in the mold? Or does the cheese go in the bottom, before the ziti is added? Thanks, this looks wonderful!
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 30, 2018 at 1:35 AM
Lynn, no you add the cheese in step 4, before putting them in mound.
Christine DammOctober 29, 2018 at 10:16 PM
So enjoyed hearing about your process to perfection! A beautiful dish! Like the most exotic mac and cheese on the planet. I am tempted to try this with the ‘porky cream’ sauce but minus the stacked noodles. ‘Way too ‘high table’ for my husband! Thanks for the great post.
JeffTOctober 29, 2018 at 10:19 PM
Yea she always makes things look beautiful. The hubby and kids could care less and would just woof it down as if its just a fancy tasting mac and cheese.. Cannot wait to try this one.. I’m going in for the full amount of pancetta still in the sauce..
SabrinaOctober 30, 2018 at 5:03 AM
Amazing recipe! Love your recreation!
khuzkOctober 30, 2018 at 9:30 AM
Love how you arranged macaroni, so beautiful! I am not eating pork, can I subtitute with beef sausage or what meat you can recommend?
june2October 30, 2018 at 12:18 PM
This looks amazing and fun to try, thanks!
HeidiOctober 30, 2018 at 9:23 PM
This is BEAUTIFUL!
But…is the mould a cheesecake mould?
mandy@ladyandpupsOctober 31, 2018 at 12:08 AM
Heidi, it was a typical ring mould, but any types would work.
george tsaklidisOctober 31, 2018 at 1:24 AM
First of all, i just wanna say “REALLY REALLY NICE” & “ATTAGIRL, GREAT JOB” because i know it’s not easy doing pasta this way.
Secondly, I’m happy to be kind of off work this week and working from home (cuz i’m preparing stuff for the PARIS PEACE FORUM in 11 days) so i am busy but it’s nice to be at home and take a break by reading this lovely post !
Thirdly, we GREEKS (a.k.a. “my people”) often make a greek tomato, béchamel, cinnamon pasta dish called PASTITSIO that uses very long tubular macaroni and we have 2 choices in the presentation, my mom’s way is to mix it all up and have the pasta tubes work their way through the whole dish which looks great when u slice through it and then the fancier way is to use shorter pasta tubes in an upright honeycomb fashion which takes longer but is great for a larger dish or individual portions …. i like both but method number 2 is divine in appearance (but slightly drier & crunchier)
Fourth point : I haven(t gotten around to making it to photograph it & post it because i thought people would just say “yeah, right, keep dreaming, uuuuugh !” but you’ve proven me wrong ! :)
You make me proud LADY-GIRL … xo
FrancescaNovember 1, 2018 at 1:56 AM
Have you tried to look simply for “ziti”, without the word macaroni? That’s how we call them in Italy. Ziti is one kind of pasta, maccheroni is another kind (different shape). In any cases, I’m curious to try your recipe. Thanks for the effort in putting it together!
mandy@ladyandpupsNovember 1, 2018 at 12:15 PM
Francesca, I did but HK only has long ziti lol.
LaurenNovember 7, 2018 at 12:49 PM
This is just so stunningly beautiful.
LunaNovember 20, 2018 at 5:04 AM
I made it!!!!! It was absolutely perfect! So perfect had to shed a tear.
RohanNovember 22, 2018 at 9:42 AM
Just made it tonight for the girlfriend and I. Kept the sauce chunky (didn’t use a sieve) and ended up using thin rigatoni. Turned out fantastic and looked absolutely beautiful. The creamy sauce was fantastic and the cheese melted wonderfully within the “honeycomb”. My favourite part was the crunchy top formed by the roux. Only difficulty I had was setting up the pasta to be straight, which not all of it was. Not complaining, this is a fantastic recipe I’ll be storing away in my book.
SelinaNovember 29, 2018 at 12:06 AM
This is awesome! The combination of flavors sounds like a great authentic taste. I love everything about this recipe, need to try this!
MarianoJanuary 29, 2020 at 5:55 PM
Can I use rigatoni to make this dish?
mandy@ladyandpupsJanuary 30, 2020 at 2:05 AM
Mariano, I’m afraid it will be too wide?