Pinnekjøtt (cured lamb ribs) will be served on many tables this Christmas and New Year’s Eve. When all have had their fair share – belly’s content and smiles abounding – there might even be a couple ribs leftover. And this is when it’s fun to get creative and come up with new ways to serve the leftovers. For me, a family favorite – and indulgent one at that – is homemade macaroni and cheese. Cheesy and creamy, simple and versatile – the perfect balance of pasta and cheese.
I’ve had this idea brewing in my head since last year – combining these two traditional meals into one glorious hot casserole of macaroni, cheese, and shredded pinnekjøtt. While this recipe is about bringing two traditional dishes together, and may even appear a bit un-Norwegian, macaroni has been a Norwegian favorite for quite some time.
Up until the 1970s, macaroni was referred to as innlandsgrønnsaken “the inland vegetable” in Norway. A favorite dish to make at home was makaronistuing (macaroni casserole), made up of a roux and macaroni, sans the cheese. It was popular because it was filling, tasty, and simple to make. Another version of this dish, made with fish and breadcrumbs on top, is fiskegrateng.
Macaroni first entered Norway in the early 1900s, when the Norwegian brand Sopps became the first to open a macaroni factory in 1918 in Skøyen, Oslo and sell the noodle. Dr. Sopps, a consultant at the factory, became the face and name behind the company, promoting recipes featuring macaroni in newspapers, magazines, and in a cookbook called Sopps makaroni till alle retter (Sopps macaroni to all dishes). The company found great success and Norwegians took to the small noodle, even more so than the pasta that would follow: spaghetti.
The salty pinnekjøtt adds a layer of depth to the creamy, cheesy macaroni. To make this a well-rounded meal, I serve the macaroni and cheese with a simple and light winter slaw featuring raw beets, apples, and red cabbage. The slaw cuts through all the saltiness and dairy to lighten the dish, so be sure to allow the slaw time to sit before serving so the flavors can properly infuse.
Pinnekjøtt Macaroni and Cheese and Winter Slaw
Serves 8 to 10
For the slaw:
- 2 large red apples, cored and sliced into thin strips
- 3 cups (300 g) shredded red cabbage
- 3 beets (300 g), peeled and cut into thin strips
- ¼ cup (60 ml) rapeseed or olive oil
- ¼ cup (60 ml) apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- Salt and black pepper, to season
- Parsley, finely chopped, to garnish
For the pinnekjøtt mac n cheese:
- ½ cup (112 g) butter
- ½ cup (60 g) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 cups (720 ml) milk
- 1 cup (240 ml) heavy cream or half and half
- 3 cups (300 g) cooked pinnekjøtt (cured lamb ribs), shredded and bones removed
- 21 ounces (600 g) cheese (I make an equal mix of 3 types of cheeses – some suggestions are norvegia (Norwegian cheese), gouda, semi-firm white cheese made from goat’s milk, cheddar, and/or gruyere)
- 14 ounces (400 g) macaroni, cooked al dente
To make the slaw, place the apples, cabbage, and beets in a large serving bowl. In a separate small bowl, mix together the oil, vinegar, and sugar to emulsify and pour over the apple, beets, and cabbage. Season with a little salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, preferably longer, to let the flavors infuse.
To make the pinnekjøtt macaroni and cheese, melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the flour and whisk for 2 minutes. Add the garlic powder, milk, and cream and continue to cook, whisking frequently, for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened. Add in 14 ounces (400 g) of the cheese and stir to combine. Cook until the cheese has melted, about 1 minute. Add in the pinnekjøt and cooked macaroni and mix well. Remove from the heat and pour into a 13 x 9-inch (33 x 23 cm) casserole dish. Top with the remaining 7 ounces (200 g) cheese. Bake for 20 minutes at 350°F / 180°C. After 20 minutes, change the oven setting to grill and cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and golden brown.
Remove the winter slaw from the refrigerator and garnish with the chopped parsley.
Serve the pinnekjøtt macaroni and cheese warm with the winter slaw.
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