Melt is a curious cookbook. While Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord are not the first to explore comforting combinations of noodles and cheese, the authors have taken the pairing to a whole new level. That approach works out very nicely for a curious cook like me.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Melt from the publisher (Little, Brown and Company) in hopes that I would review it here. Additionally, I am acquainted with both of the authors. Nevertheless, this post is my original writing and the views expressed here are entirely my own.
This is a big book. You might enjoy having it out on your coffee table as much as in your kitchen. It’s full of ideas that take mac and cheese to new lengths and heights. While singing the praises of an American favorite, the book is as valuable as a treatise on artisan cheeses as it is on pairing them with pasta.
After an introduction by Michael Ruhlman (Michael Ruhlman!), the book opens by explaining the basics of cheese—everything from how it’s made to purchasing, storing, and of course shredding to get your mac on. There’s even a recipe for making your own paneer. Sprinkled throughout the book are additional cheese lessons and lore.
The recipe chapters cover “refreshing” combinations (largely pasta salads), and the very first one caught my eye: Humboldt Fog with Grilled Peaches and Orzo (recipe below).
I’m not sure I can wait for Valentine’s Day to try out the Chocolate Pasta with Bucherondin, Hazelnuts, and Cherries. Already you can see that this is no ordinary mac and cheese collection. Additional chapters cover Stovetop Delights, Hearty and Satisfying (casseroles and other baked concoctions), and a few dessert options. A Cheese Compendium spreading two pages charts out name, milk type, country of origin, and cheese type for the majority of cheeses mentioned in the book, and a Pasta Guide will clear up your questions about pasta types you may not know, like pizzichi and idiyappam.
Things I love about the book:
- Melt creatively interprets the term “macaroni and cheese.” Calling it “the art of” seems appropriate.
- The recipes include lots of great suggestions for substitutions, including alternate cheeses, additional pairings for the cheese used, and wine pairings.
- The recipe headnotes and other narrative are enticingly conversational, which seems perfect for a food most of us grew to love in childhood. At times it’s downright irreverent. It makes the book approachable, entertaining, and though some of the recipes run long and have many ingredients, Stiavetti and McCord always keep them approachable.
Not so much:
- Mac and cheese is meant to be an indulgence, but some recipes are loaded with obscene amounts of butterfat and other-fat. It’s an outlier, but one recipe includes three sticks of butter, a pound of cheese, and a pound of prosciutto for a recipe serving four.
- Some of the recipes stretch the definition of mac and cheese a bit too far. Is a chicken breast stuffed with cheese and macaroni really mac and cheese? Tomato soup with star pasta served with cheese crisps? Udon with radicchio topped with grated cheese?
On that last point, I don’t suppose I have a leg to stand on, having recently written a book that suggests scooping ice cream into a hot dog bun, dousing it with toppings, and tackling it as an ice cream sandwich. And really, how can you fault the authors for being creative, especially when they’ve presented the book more as art than taxonomy. Still, be prepared to think b-r-o-a-d-l-y when you open this book.
GIVEAWAY!: The folks at Melt are giving away a $500 set of Le Creuset cookware
and a $100 gift certificate for Murray’s Cheese. (Contest ends December 1, 2013.)
Enter here: http://www.theculinarylife.com/2013/another-melt-le-crueset-giveaway
What’s your favorite pairing of pasta and cheese?
- 8 large or 12 small fresh, ripe figs, any variety
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt
- 10 ounces orzo, regular or whole wheat
- ¼ cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
- ¼ cup chopped fresh spearmint leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup chopped pistachios
- 6 ounces Humboldt Fog, rind removed, cheese coarsely crumbled (I included the rind)
- Wipe the figs with a damp cloth if needed, then remove the stems and cut the figs in half top to bottom.
- Mix together the honey, balsamic, and oil, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Add the fig pieces, gently spoon the sauce over them to coat, and let stand for 10 minutes.
- While the figs marinate, cook the orzo according to package directions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Place the fig halves on a hot, oiled (outdoor or stovetop) grill, cut side down. (Reserve the marinade.)
- Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until they begin to developed grill marks. Roughly cut the figs into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
- Combine the figs, orzo, parsley, mint, pistachios, and reserved marinade in a bowl. Gently toss to evenly coat the orzo, adding salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Break up the Humboldt Fog and add to the bowl.
- Toss once or twice, just enough to bring everything together. (Avoid over-mixing, which will melt the cheese if the orzo is still warm.)
- Serve immediately.
- The authors recommend the following:
- Alternative cheeses: Humboldt Fog is widely available, but good stand-ins include Goat’s Leap Eclipse, Bermuda Triangle, or any stellar chêvre
- Wine pairings: Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer
- Additional pairings for the cheese, outside of this recipe: plums, cherries, balsamic reduction
Alternative cheeses: Humboldt Fog is widely available, but good stand-ins include Goat’s Leap Eclipse, Bermuda Triangle, or any stellar chêvre
Wine pairings: Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer
Additional pairings for the cheese, outside of this recipe: plums, cherries, balsamic reduction