A week or two ago, Nich and I began a conversation about Lent and what it might look like for us this year. Lent isn’t something I practiced growing up, but discovered during college through various friends and roommates. I never researched the history of Lent, I just mimicked the Lenten practices of my friends. From what I gathered, Lent was the practice of giving something up: coffee, sugar, chocolate, etc. You would pick one thing (that you really liked) and would fast from that thing for 40 days (From Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday). I haven’t been great about practicing Lent for the last few years, but I have always enjoyed the practice of Lent and have always felt that fasting is an important part of faith.
So, when Nich approached me a week or two ago and asked me what I thought about participating in Great Lent (which is the Greek Orthodox Lent), I was open to the idea. (For those of you who don’t know, my husband has a deep love for the Greek Orthodox tradition. He attended a Greek Orthodox church for a number of years, and is well-versed in the Orthodox theology and history. Being the born-and-bred evangelical that I am, I am not well-versed in Orthodox theology, but I am slowly learning the beauty of this tradition.) When Nich first divulged the details of Great Lent, I was fearful. Great Lent is hard! However, he wasn’t demanding that I participate, he was simply asking me to consider it. He thought it would be a good thing for us to try, as a couple. I thought it sounded a little crazy.
You see, for Orthodox Lent you are asked to give up Meat, Dairy, Wine, and Oil. And I love all of those things oh-so-very much. Giving up these things seemed impossible. But after voicing all of my objections to Nich (But what about the food blog? What about yogurt in the mornings for my cranky stomach?) he explained to me that I didn’t need to worry so much about it. You see, Lent isn’t about the rules – it is about grace. There is room for error, and there is an understanding that mistakes will be made. If someone offers you meat in their home, you eat it. While “wine” isn’t allowed, most people still drink beer (in moderation) during Great Lent. And, the most comforting fact of all: most people end up using some oil. When Nich told me that, I felt a flood of relief. If I could use just a little oil here and there, I was pretty sure I could give up meat, dairy, and wine for 6 weeks. The point of Lent isn’t to see how “good” you can be. The point is to sacrifice, to grow, and to be thankful; to meditate on all that Easter means.
(In addition, with all I’ve learned about the state of the world, I also feel that abstaining from meat and dairy for a time is a very good thing to do. Interesting article on Lent from The Huffington Post if you’re interested).
That being said, the food blog will look a little different for 6 weeks. I will still do my best to cook interesting and delicious meals, but the meals will all be essentially vegan (Please note: I am not labeling myself as a vegan. However, fasting from dairy and meat essentially means that Nich and I will be eating a vegan diet). I am excited to see food differently, to eat differently, and to experience a new kind of Lent.
So, in honor of Lent (and all the things that I cannot partake in), I will now post a recipe for Truffled Mac & Cheese with Crispy Shallots. I made this recipe a few nights ago, knowing that I would not be able to partake in any mac-and-cheesy goodness for awhile. So I whipped up the richest, creamiest, and most delicious mac and cheese ever. It was so good. So good, in fact, that I will look foward to eating this in 6 weeks.
As for the rest of you…I hope you enjoy. Eat some mac for me!
Truffled Mac & Cheese with Crispy Shallots
*Please note that I happened to have Truffle Oil on hand because Nich got me some for Christmas. Its pretty spendy stuff, but totally worth it. If you don’t have truffle oil, don’t worry about it. It isn’t essential to the recipe (but it is realllllllly good).
3/4 cup grated Asiago Cheese
3/4 cup grated Smoked (Applewood Cheddar)
1/2 Cup cream (or milk)
3 Tbl Flour
3 Tbl Butter
1 lb bag of Pasta (Elbo macaroni, Fusili, Penne, etc)
Salt & pepper
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
Drizzle of Truffle Oil
1 Shallot, sliced thinly
Panko Bread Crumbs
1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add in pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 375.
2. In a small fry pan, drizzle a small amount of olive oil. Heat the pan over low heat. Add in the thinly sliced shallots, and cook for 15 minutes (they can be cooking the whole time you are making the mac & cheese). Stir occasionally, and add oil if they are browning too quickly or are sticking to the pan. You essentially want to carmelize the shallots.
3. In a small sauce pan (med-low heat), melt the butter and whisk until the butter has melted and is starting to foam. Slowly add in flour, whisking the entire time (to form a roux). Once the flour and butter is combined, slowly add in the milk or cream, constantly whisking. Whisk for a few minutes until the mixture is thick and creamy. Add in paprika, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and a few drops of truffle oil (if using). Stir in the cheese, and mix until all the cheese has melted.
4. Toss the sauce mixture with the pasta. I didn’t end up using all of the pasta (I used about 3/4 of it), because I wanted a good sauce to pasta ratio. Transfer to greased baking dish(es) – I used 4 small baking dishes but any baking dish will do. Top with a layer of panko bread crumbs and the carmelized shallots. Drizzle a small amount of truffle oil over the top. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes. Note: My shallots got a little darker than I wanted them to, so my advice would be to add them on about halfway through the baking time.