If you’ve visited before, you probably already noticed I’m a fan of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. I first discovered the books back in high school and have read them all a few dozen times, along with others by J.R.R. Tolkein. I also love what Peter Jackson has done in the movies, and have seen the LOTR trilogy – extended editions, mind you – a dozen times or more. I’ve already seen the first two Hobbit movies three or four times each. Yes, I know he added a lot of stuff to it and turned a single book into three movies. Please excuse me while I chuckle at those who were surprised. I mean, really; it’s Peter Jackson. Just be glad he didn’t split his other big work in to two movies: King and Kong, you know? That would have upset me. But more Hobbit movies? Bring them on!
Now, I’m not a total fanatic about it. I don’t have The One Ring, or Sting, or even a costume. Just because I want a Hobbit House buried under a hill like Bag End doesn’t mean I wish I was shorter than I already am, or wish I had pointy ears. (Yes, at least a few people have had their ears worked on to have points. This woman wants to be an elf.) So… I’m nowhere near the weirdest super-fan out there, OK? But I do love me some hobbits. And dwarves. And elves. But the hobbits are the coolest of all. They like a lot of the same foods I do, and since they’re like me, that makes them cool.
Hobbits like bacon. A lot. And lots of it. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that all we need to know. I mean, it’s like Jerry McGuire all over again. “You had me at bacon.” Just shut up and kiss me. They also like mushrooms. A lot. In both book and movie versions of The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo’s crew goes ape over mushrooms. It’s like they found the key to immortality or something. (Wait, the ring is the key to immortality and… WAY off topic. Back to work.) And they like cheese, as evidenced by the fact that there always seems to be a wheel or six of the stuff on hand in the Baggins larder.
Macaroni and Cheese is a Comfort Food, and we all know Hobbits are into comfort. They’re also seriously into rib-stickin’ meals – which is what most Comfort Foods are – and pots of ale. Macaroni and Cheese would be a big deal in Hobbiton, I’m sure, with every old Gammer passing on the family recipe, every young wife following it carefully, carrying on the family tradition.
Not surprisingly, the tour of Hobbiton, in New Zealand, includes the Green Dragon Inn. While the menu items are authentic, it’s very limited, barely more than a sandwich shop would offer. Call it the Lunch menu. Especially at night, an true inn would have more satisfying fare. Roasts of beef, pork and fowl; racks of bones, perhaps some rabbit, and taters, as Sam Gamgee lovingly called them.
Even in the evening, the menu may not be long, and the fare would probably rotate based on what was available on any given day, and what the mood the cook wore with his apron. And it would need to include less-expensive offerings for those who needed to mind their money (or preferred to spend more of it on ale). And that’s where Mac and Cheese comes in. For a tavern or inn, it would be an excellent menu item – it’s fairly cheap to make; it’s easy to do a large batch and keep it warm, and it’s a local favorite. I would not be surprised at all to find it on the menu at the Green Dragon at dinnertime.
You might find a plain version as a side dish, but I’m betting the main course version would be something special. What better way to entice a hungry Hobbit than to add a bunch of their favorite foods and add them to a local favorite dish? Hobbits would go totally gaga over it. If your friends are anything like the folks who have already sampled this recipe, they’re going to go gaga over it, too. So let’s go have some fun…
1/2 box macaroni or other pasta (8 oz. dry)
8 slices thick cut bacon (not pepper bacon; it’s too strong).
1 cup diced onion
1-2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 prepared dijon mustard
1/2 bottle (6 oz.) good ale
1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons
1/4 Wondra® flour
1 cup half and half or cream
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup thick and chunky blue cheese dressing
1 large egg
2 cup grated Swiss Cheese
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbles
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 Parmesan cheese
Gather all (well, most, in this case) your ingredients, pots, pans, bowls, implements of mass destruction… whatever you’re going to need to get this done.
Heat a large skillet or frying pan over medium heat. While it’s heating, cut your bacon into pieces. When hot, fill the pan with bacon in a single layer, cooking to your desired level of crispness. For me, that means it should be cooked through, but still limp when it drains and cools. Drain bacon on paper towels.
While bacon is cooking, prepare macaroni or other pasta of your choice according to package directions. When done, run cold water into the pot to stop the cooking process, then drain in a colander. Set aside.
When bacon is done frying, pour out all but a couple of tablespoons of the bacon grease. Return to heat.
Add onion to pan and saute for about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute. Add beer, mustard and spices to pan and stir to blend, then let it slow boil for 5-6 minutes.
Turn off heat and add bacon to pan, stirring to coat.
Get all your half and half, cheeses, egg and salad dressing close to the stove so you don’t have to look for them. Once you start creating the roux (the butter and flour mixture), you need to keep your whisk moving 95% of the time. Beat your egg senseless so it’s ready when you need it.
In a large pot, heat butter over medium heat. As soon as it starts to sizzle, start circulating your whisk, then begin adding flour a little at a time, until it’s all in the pot. Keep your whisk moving and cook the flour until it begins to turn a golden brown and gives of a nice nutty aroma. You now have what the French call a roux.
Next, add the half and half in a thin, steady stream while you keep your whisk moving. This is going to turn into a nice, thick white sauce in very short order. If it’s too thick – like oatmeal – thin it out with some extra half and half. Think gravy in terms of consistency.
Remove about a half cup of the sauce. While whisking the bejeebers out of your egg, S L O W L Y add the roux mixture. DO NOT just dump it in, as that will scramble the egg and ruin everything. Patience, grasshopper, patience. When everything is combined, add the egg/sauce mixture back into the pot.
Add salad dressing and stir to combine. Add cream cheese and keep stirring to combine. Add blue cheese crumbles, and finally, the shredded Swiss cheese.
Once everything is nicely melted and gooey, add the mushroom/bacon mixture and stir again, until it’s well-incorporated and you see no lighter or darker streaks.
Finally, fold in the pasta, being careful not to beat it up too much. Make sure your cheese mixture is blended consistently throughout the noodles.
Butter an 8×8 or 9×9 baking dish, then turn the mac and cheese into it, smoothing the top somewhat. It doesn’t need to completely flat, but there shouldn’t be any significant mountains or canyons, either. I reserved some of the mushrooms and onions to put on top of the casserole, but you don’t have to.
Melt butter for topping in small pan. Once melted, add bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese and stir with fork to coat everything. It should still be fairly dry and easy to crumble over the top of the casserole, which is where this stuff goes. Man up, and do this by hand so you can more carefully control even distribution. (Ladies, you too, OK? I hate greasy hands, too, but that’s why there’s a sink. And soap.)
Place casserole in oven and bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes, or until top is nicely browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with reserved onions, Swiss cheese and blue cheese crumbles. Pop it back in the oven for another 5-8 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes (up to ten). You can use that time for final prep for your meal.
Use a huge spoon or ladle to serve to plates. I often use a pair of spoons, the second one to balance the portion so it doesn’t fall apart too much. Dust the plate with some Parmesan cheese and you’re all set. Add a green vegetable and/or a nice side salad, and you’ve got yourself a hot, rib-sticking meal that the Green Dragon Inn would be proud to serve to company… perhaps a band of traveling dwarves.
About the pasta – Of course, macaroni is the classic shape for mac and cheese dishes. But there’s no reason to stop there. You can use pretty much any pasta shape that isn’t long – meaning spaghetti, fettuccine, lasagna noodles and the like. For this particular day, I used penne, but I’ve been known to also use bow ties, small shells, rotini and others. Let your conscience – and your pantry – be the guide.
About the cheeses – I used Swiss in this recipe, but you could use other cheeses to suit your taste. And I’m sure I’ll try other varieties in the future. A couple of other choices are Gruyere, Monterey Jack or a shredded blend. I strongly recommend using shredded cheese because it melts and incorporates better and quicker.
About the bacon – I use thick sliced bacon, and cut each strip into 6 to 8 pieces. When I cook the bacon, I don’t do it as long as I would in other situations – breakfast, for instance. I want the bacon to be fully cooked, but still soft and chewy. But that’s just me. Feel free to fry it till it’s completely crispy if you prefer.
In closing, let me offer a party idea, actually a set of them. Have a Lord of the Rings viewing party. Start with some appetizers and watch the first half of the movie. In between discs, serve the mac and cheese. Dinner conversation could be focused on the first part of the movie. With or without the movie, this is great recipe to double up so you can feed a whole troop of weary travelers. Have fun with it; make it your own; And, as always,
Play with your food!
Are you a Hobbit? Like bacon and mushrooms? Try my Hobbit Eggs.
Did you like this recipe? What recipes would you like to learn? Leave me a comment and tell me your thoughts! (And don’t forget to LIKE this post!) Share it using the tiles below.