Mac & Cheese with Crab Cakes
- 1 pound cavatappi or elbow pasta with lines on conchiglie (small fat tube/shell shaped pasta with lines)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 3 ribs celery with leafy tops, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 small red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 About 2 tablespoons freshly chopped thyme leaves, several sprigs
- 1 About 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 pound fresh lump crab meat, picked for shells and flaked
- 1 tablespoon seafood seasoning (recommended: Old Bay)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups milk
- Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/3 pound, about 1 rounded cup grated sharp white Cheddar
- 1/3 pound, about 1 rounded cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese
- 3 tablespoons hot sauce (recommended: Frank's Red Hot)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- A generous handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a couple of handfuls
Bring large pot of water to boil over medium heat, then salt water. Add pasta and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, (it will be undercooked). Cool, drain well and add it to large bowl.
Meanwhile, in medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan, and 1 tablespoon butter over medium to medium-high heat. Add celery, onion, red pepper, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, lemon zest, salt and pepper, to taste. Cook to tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add crab meat to the vegetables and season liberally with seafood seasoning. Stir to combine, then remove from heat.
In medium sauce pot, over low heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter and whisk in the flour. Cook for 1 minute, then whisk in milk and bring to a bubble. Season sauce with salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste, and cook for a few minutes, until mixture coats the back of spoon. Add mustard and cheese and stir in figure 8 motion. Add vegetables and crab, sauce to bowl with pasta and transfer mixture to individual baking crocks or large casserole dish. This can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
To complete dish, melt a couple of tablespoons butter in small skillet, over low heat and add 3 tablespoons hot sauce. Warm through, then add panko crumbs and toss to evenly coat crumbs in sauce mixture. Cool crumbs, then toss in parsley and 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Top mac n cheese with spicy crumb mixture. Arrange individual crocks on baking sheet or put casserole on baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake until brown and heated through, about 10 minutes. If cooking from cold, mac 'n cheese will take 40 to 45 minutes, but add crumbs last 10 minutes of baking.