New Cookbook 'Melt' Elevates Macaroni and Cheese
When you think of macaroni and cheese, do your thoughts turn to casseroles of elbow noodles baked with a cheddar cheese-based sauce? You wouldn't be alone—for many, macaroni and cheese, even with variations that include broccoli, bacon, or other treats, is a dish that is often very much the same from one kitchen to the next.
Photo by Matt Armendariz, Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company
Cookbook authors and bloggers Garrett McCord and Stephanie Stiavetti are trying to change that perception with the release of their book Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese. Can this popular dish be reinvented as a salad? A soup? Dessert? McCord and Stiavetti prove it can in many delicious and interesting ways. From Tomato Soup with Star Pasta and Vella Dry Jack Crisps to Smoked Idiazabal Mason-Jar Potpies With Lamb and Tomato Sauce, the recipes cross continents, cultures, and cooking techniques, and are guaranteed to change your definition of this classic dish.
Here's a peek at the book's video trailer:
Genie Gratto: How did you decide to work on a cookbook together? What really sparked the project for the two of you?
Stephanie Stiavetti: We've been friends and colleagues for years, and we realized that our combined energies and platforms were very powerful—much more so than they were individually. Plus, the idea of having someone to share the work with was definitely inviting. We are each others' built-in editor, recipe consultant, fact checker, sounding board, art director, and wanna-be therapist. Having two minds on the same project made the finished product that much stronger.
As for the idea of macaroni and cheese, we actually joked about doing a mac and cheese book, as in, "Oh yeah, just what the world really needs… another Yankee Doodle Lobster Mac!" But then we realized that we could do something special here, something that shared an ideal we both carry with us: that real cheese should be on every table and in every refrigerator. In that way, mac and cheese became more of a canvas for our creativity instead of a simple cookbook topic.
GG: How did you settle on the overall theme of the book?
Garrett McCord: We both have an absolute love of artisan cheese and we wanted to present many of those cheeses through a lens of a popular and comforting dish. Artisan cheese, like wine, seems scary and fancy to so many people. Melt is designed to be a gateway book for great, real-cooking mac and cheese recipes but also to introduce people to a selection of handcrafted artisan cheeses. Our goal is that everyone who reads this becomes a more curd fluent.
GG: What was it like writing and testing recipes together? Did you divide and conquer or was it a collaborative process?
SS: When we first started working on Melt, we spent a lot of time on the phone, dreaming up flavor combinations. A lot of the recipes in the book are collaborations between the two of us, where we'd get together and create dishes side by side. For other recipes, one of us would call the other and say, "Hey, what do you think of this idea?" Then we'd chat about it, adding and extracting ingredients and methods until it solidified. There are even some parts of the book where we can't remember who wrote what, because our writing and editing styles blend so well. In a lot of ways, writing this book was one long conversation about cooking.
GG: Throughout the cookbook, you draw from a wide variety of culinary traditions and cultures. Were you both familiar with all these approaches from the start, or did your recipe development require a lot of research into new types of cooking and techniques?
GM:A lot of research went into many of these recipes. The Indian paneer korma recipe kicked my butt up and down the street. I needed more guidance on building the flavor properly, so Stephanie sought out Vijitha Shyam for help, and we crafted a truly authentic Indian-style mac and cheese without getting gimmicky. The sopa seca recipe also earned me a scolding from Diana Kennedy for using tomatillos instead of traditional tomatoes. (It's still epic in flavor.)
GG: Though each recipe offers alternatives to the recommended cheese ingredient, you've written these to feature very specific cheese varieties. When you made those selections, how did you decide which cheeses would have the most "staying power"—in other words, cheeses you knew would be produced and available for a long time?