Try This Celebrity Chef’s Recipe For Dinner
Matt Welsch is a Wheeling native who opened The Vagabond Kitchen. With a strong passion for community, he prepares dishes from The Vagabond Kitchen using locally sourced ingredients. Welsch’s unique aesthetic is what prompted representatives from the Food Network to reach out to him to participate on the Food Networks show Guy’s Grocery Games. Hosted by Guy Fieri, each episode features four chefs competing against each other for a grand prize of $20,000. This culinary competition is set in a grocery store where contestants face challenges, including one where Welsch prepared a macaroni & cheese dish. Not only did Welsch best the other three chefs, but he went on to face the shopping spree where he won a total of $20,000.
Vagabond Macaroni & Cheese
Serves Approximately 4
8 oz Elbow Mavaroni
TT Kosher Salt
1 C Butter
1 C Flour
2 C Whole Milk
½ C Heavy Cream
Slightly over a ½ lb of cheese, or slightly more than 3 C by volume.
Your choice of pretty much anything, but stick to 2 or 3. Don’t overdo it. In this recipe, we’re going to overdo it.
1 T Unsalted Butter
1 T Olive Oil
1 C Panko
1 ea Large Clove of Garlic, minced
1 oz Grated Parmesan
½ C Crumbled Bacon (about a dozen strips)
When I heard Guy Fieri say, “I want you to make the judges a guilty pleasure,” on Food Network’s Guy’s Grocery Games, I immediately knew what I was going to make. macaroni & cheese. I’ve always loved the dish—silky cheese sauce with comforting, pillowy noodles. It’s the taste of home. There are a million ways to execute it, and every single one is more delicious than the last.
To make the Vagabond version of Mac & Cheese, you’re going to want to start with some salty water. Water so salty that you’d think you just insulted its mother. The chef go-to on this is that it should be as salty as sea water.
Bring the pot of water to a boil and add your elbow macaroni. Pasta should almost always be cooked al dente. This is no exception. You’re going to cook it more, so you don’t want it to turn into mush.
Oh, right, and get that oven preheated to 400 degrees while you’re busy getting those noodles right.
Strain your noodles into a colander and let them sit. Don’t bounce them around. Don’t beat them up. Gravity will do its work just fine and if the noodles get too dry, they’ll stick.
Cut a dozen strips of bacon down into smaller chunks and cook until crunchy in a large cast iron skillet on medium heat. If you don’t have cast iron, use a regular pan, but make a note to buy a cast iron skillet next time you’re out. Seriously. It makes that big of a difference. Drain most of the bacon grease off, but save it. You can use that liquid gold later for what-have-you. Set the bacon crumbles aside.
Heat the butter and oil until the butter stops foaming and they are incorporated. Add the garlic and cook until it starts to turn a deep gold color.
Add the panko. Stir that together until pretty much all the fat is absorbed by the panko. Transfer that to a large bowl and add the Parmesan and bacon crumbles.
Now, let’s make that roux.
In the same cast iron skillet–still on medium heat–melt a cup of butter and slowly sprinkle in all-purpose flour until it’s incorporated, stirring and turning with a wooden spoon. Once it’s incorporated, toast on medium low heat until it reaches a golden color.
Turn your roux into bechamel by heating milk in a separate saucepan and slowly adding it to the skillet with your roux on medium high heat. Use a whisk to fully incorporate. It shouldn’t be chunky. It should be the consistency of a Luther Vandross melody, smooth and creamy.
Finally, the bechamel becomes cheese sauce. Don’t use pre-grated cheese. It’s coated with an anti-coagulant and will make your cheese sauce have a gritty mouthfeel. Instead use cheese you grated or cut into small chunks and crumbled. A nice mixture is 5 ounces of cheddar, two ounces of gorgonzola, and two ounce of pepper jack—you get the creaminess you’re used to with a little funk and a little heat. That’s how I like it, and this is my recipe, damn it. You want your sauce to be “nappe,” a fancy French word that means it will nicely coat a metal spoon if you dip it into the sauce.
Now for the final step, dump your macaroni into a casserole dish, pour your cheese sauce over top and stir it in gently with your wooden spoon. At this point, you can add any manner of cooked vegetable or protein—chicken and broccoli, onions, chorizo, ground beef and mushrooms, butternut squash and wilted spinach. I haven’t found much of anything that doesn’t go well in mac and cheese. Just be careful to drain any protein well, and if it’s something that will bleed into the macaroni and discolor it, then fold it in genty. Don’t stir vigorously.
Once your mac and cheese and add-ins are all nestled away in the casserole dish, top the dish evenly with your panko mixture, and place your casserole dish on a sheet tray (in case it bubbles over). Fire in that pre-heated oven until the top is golden brown, about 18 minutes, and let stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Enjoy!Find more WV Food
This post was last updated on August 3, 2020