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Crab, Pasta and Cheese Gratin

Crab, Pasta and Cheese Gratin
Mild cheeses marry better with white wines than red wines because of their delicate flavors and the creaminess in both the wine and the food. Add the resonance of sweet crab, and a lush Chardonnay is the obvious choice; but other fruity, rich white wines also work well with this classic comfort food. Dependable: full, fruity Chardonnay. Daring: fresh, light Dolcetto.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb. macaroni
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup shelled peas (optional)
  • 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk, heated
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, heated
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Ground nutmeg, to taste
  • 2/3 lb. lump crabmeat, picked over for shell
      fragments
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded fontina or Emmentaler
      cheese
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-
      Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 Tbs. finely shredded white
      cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup fine dried bread crumbs

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni, stir well and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water to halt the cooking and drain again. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the olive oil. Set aside.

If using the peas, bring a small saucepan three-fourths full of salted water to a boil. Add the peas and cook until nearly tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold running water to halt the cooking, and drain again. Set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt 4 Tbs. of the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until fully incorporated, about 3 minutes; do not allow to brown. Slowly add the milk and cream, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until smooth and thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Add the sauce to the macaroni and mix well. Fold in the crabmeat, chives, peas (if using), and 1/2 cup each of the fontina, Parmigiano-Reggiano and cheddar cheeses. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Top with the 3 Tbs. each Parmigiano-Reggiano and cheddar, sprinkling evenly over the surface. Then sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Finally, cut the remaining 2 Tbs. butter into bits and use to dot the top of the gratin.

Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes, then scoop out with a spoon.
Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Lifestyles Series, Food & Wine Pairing, by Joyce Goldstein (Time-Life Books, 1999).