PANAMA CITY— Comfort food is about more than just taste, often evoking rich memories of childhood, family and holidays.
“If it can take me back to when I was a kid, don’t have to think like an adult, act like an adult … Comfort food is one of those things that warms you from the inside,” said Yi Lynne Weber, who specializes in global comfort food from her E. Street Café Food Truck.
On Oct. 24, Yi Lynne posted a photo of her Fried Mortadella sandwich on the E. Street Café Food Truck Facebook page. The next day, I stopped by her truck, which was parked in a lot on 15th Street across from Bay Cars, to order one.
“I just think of it like a grown-up fried bologna sandwich,” Yi Lynne said.
Panama Citynative Kim Nicolalde had pulled up to E. Street Cafe as soon as the truck arrived. I asked what comfort food was to her.
“Just anything from my grandparents’ house, chicken and dumplings, fried chicken. I just think of Thanksgiving — sweet potato casserole, mac and cheese,” said Kim, who was surprising her family with the Fried Mortadella, Fried Pork Chop Sandwich and Bacon and Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese.
I ordered the mac and cheese to go with my sandwich, an ultimate comfort food meal.
One bite into the soft roll, mixed with the warm, salty Mortadella, sharp Provolone, crunchy lettuce and tomato mixed with the taste of creamy mayo, and I was transported to younger days, ball games and after-school snacks.
The Bacon and Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese had a slightly sweet crunch on the top over a smooth, creamy bed of large pasta shells, with just a little salt from the bacon. This dish took me back to holidays with my grandparents — I bet Granny would have eaten this with me, though she might have added a sprinkle of salt.
This recipe would be at home in a casserole dish on the Thanksgiving table. The Brown Butter and Sage Bread Crumbs also will do double duty in other dishes.
“A lot of the things break down and make for different things,” said Yi Lynne, who usually makes a big bag of the bread crumbs. “I will sprinkle some on fall root vegetables. It gives it a butter and savory twist.”
Stop by the E. Street Café Food Truck downtown during this weekend’s Friday Fest, the last one of the year, and at next week’s Festival of Nations. Usually, food truck followers can spot E. Street Cafe parked from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Mondays at the Bay Medical Plaza on State 77, Tuesdays at BB&T by Kohl’s on State 77, Wednesdays at Diver’s Den on Tyndall Parkway and Thursdays across from Bay Cars. For more times and locations, as well as last-minute changes, check out E. Street Café Food Truck on Facebook.
Bacon and Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 pound pasta shells
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
½ onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon mustard powder
3 cups half and half
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces mozzarella
¼ cup grated parmesan
6 pieces of cooked bacon, chopped
Salt and pepper
Brown Butter and Sage Bread Crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3-4 sage leaves
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
For bread crumbs: Heat 1/3 cup unsalted butter in skillet on medium low heat until it foams and bubbles. Skim off foam, turn up heat slightly and cook until it starts to foam again and turns brown. Skim again and add sage leaves, and turn off heat. As soon as the leaves stop sizzling, remove them from butter (don't throw them away, because you can use them as a garnish). Add the breadcrumbs, and stir to combine.
For mac and cheese: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss butternut squash in extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pour onto a lined cookie sheet. Bake 25-30 minutes until cooked through.
Cook pasta until al dente, 2-3 minutes less than instructions on the box. Drain and set aside.
In a sauté pan set over medium heat, add ¼ cup of butter, onion and garlic. Cook 2-3 minutes until translucent and add mustard powder and ¼ cup flour. Cook 2-3 more minutes to cook out the raw flour taste and slowly whisk in the half and half. Turn up heat to medium high and cook until it thickens, just as it starts to boil. Remove from heat and add the cheeses and grate some fresh nutmeg into sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Fold in bacon, cooked pasta and butternut squash, and then pour into a buttered casserole dish. Sprinkle with bread crumb topping and bake uncovered in 350 degree oven 20-30 minutes or until bubbly. Allow to sit 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fried sage leaves.
Source: Yi Lynne Weber