Thanksgiving dinner is a feast of comfort food’s greatest hits. But even as much as I enjoy traditional favorites such as mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn bread stuffing, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts and turkey with gravy, it’s important to bring something new to the party. When chef David Codney showed me how easy it is to make his signature truffle macaroni and cheese, I knew I was going to make this elegant dish for Thanksgiving.
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Codney is executive chef at the The Peninsula Beverly Hills, a five-star hotel. When I met the chef, he led me upstairs to the hotel’s rooftop where pool guests were swimming and hanging out. On a warm, blue-sky Southern California afternoon, the view was fantastic.
Just below the rooftop’s railing were two gardens. Originally planted with flowers, the areas are now used to grow edible plants. While the guests relaxed on their chaise lounges, Codney walked past thick bunches of carrots, cucumbers, ginger, tomatoes, fennel, chard, strawberries, heirloom onions, radishes, edible flowers and herbs. Although Codney has local suppliers who bring him high-quality produce, he loves having a garden of his own.
He fertilizes the garden with compost made from coffee grounds and the pulp left over from making fresh juices in the kitchen. When he spotted a cluster of photo-shoot-ready tomatoes and an heirloom onion, he cradled them in his hands and held them up for me to admire.
Codney’s first job as a teenager was washing dishes in a restaurant kitchen. Curious by nature, he learned every recipe the chefs would teach him. Even though he studied at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), he learned his craft in the kitchens of accomplished chefs.
For the video, Codney introduced three sous chefs who would join him in the cooking demonstration. Not that he needed so many cooks to prepare his easy-to-make dish, but their assistance made an important point. For Codney a successful kitchen is the result of collaboration, and he was happy to have them help demonstrate one of the hotel’s signature dishes: truffle macaroni and cheese. And with Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaching, the dish is a good way to celebrate.
Truffle Macaroni and Cheese
Codney’s riff on an American classic can be served as an appetizer, side dish or entrée.
Building flavors as the sauce reduces, he blends fats (butter, cream and cheese) with aromatics (rosemary, parsley and thyme) and uses sautéed mushrooms to anchor the dish. White wine provides acidity, cutting through the lovely richness of the dish.
Fresh truffles are not always in season and can be hard to come by for the home cook. Truffle oil is a good substitute and is available all year long. But where fresh truffles are a subtle addition to the aromatic quality of the dish, truffle oil can be perfumey, overpowering the other flavors, so Codney advises using it judiciously.
Yield: 8 appetizers or 4 entrees
Cooking time: 30 minutes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni, preferably whole wheat and ridged
3 tablespoons sweet butter, divided
1 cup mushrooms (oyster, hen-of-the-woods, shiitake, brown or portabella), washed, stems trimmed, thinly sliced
Sea salt (preferably fleur de sel)
Freshly ground cracked white pepper, to taste
2 shallots, washed, peeled, ends trimmed, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, skins and root end trimmed, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, washed, finely chopped
½ cup Chardonnay
2 cups stock — vegetarian, meat, poultry or seafood — preferably homemade
1 whole thyme sprig, freshly picked
1 cup salty pasta water, reserved from cooking the pasta
2 cups cream, to taste
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white truffle oil, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1. While the sauce is being prepared, heat a large pot of water salted with kosher salt. When the water boils, add the pasta. Stir every 2 to 3 minutes. Cook 7 to 8 minutes or almost al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water when the pasta is drained. Toss the pasta well with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.
2. Heat a large sauté pan over low heat.
3. Add 1 tablespoon butter and mushrooms. Season with sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. After mushrooms begin to color, add shallots and garlic. Sweat until translucent. Season with parsley and rosemary.
4. Stir well to build the flavors. Add more sea salt. To balance the rich flavors, add the white wine and stir in 1 tablespoon of sweet butter. Add the pre-cooked macaroni. Stir well to coat the pasta with the sauce. Add stock and simmer. Add the sprig of thyme.
5. Reduce the stock and toss the pasta. Add a few tablespoons of salted pasta water for flavor and to thicken the sauce. Raise the heat to continue reducing the sauce.
6. Stirring the pasta, add cream in small increments. Taste and stop adding cream when you have achieved the desired richness. Add freshly ground cracked white pepper.
7. Drizzle olive oil into the sauce. Continue stirring and reducing. Add grated cheese, reserving 2 tablespoons and stir well.
8. If the sauce is too thin, raise the heat and reduce. If sauce is getting too thick, add more stock. In either case, add a drizzle of olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to round out the flavors.
9. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper or more cream. Remove thyme sprig and discard. Finish with a drizzle of white truffle oil. Use the oil sparingly. Too much can overpower the other flavors.
10. Plate the pasta, decorate with edible flowers or an aromatic such as finely chopped Italian parsley and shaved fresh truffles when in season. Dust with grated cheese. Finish with a drizzle of quality olive oil.
11. Serve hot as an appetizer, side dish or entrée.
Main photo: In the kitchen at The Peninsula Beverly Hills are some of the ingredients used by chef David Codney and his team to prepare truffle macaroni and cheese, including hen-of-the-woods or maitake mushrooms, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sweet butter, whole wheat ridged macaroni and thyme sprigs. Credit: David Latt