EVENT: Dinner with Kate and Elyssa; dinner for me
VENUE: Cara’s apartment, Park Slope
TYPE: Cozy comfort cuisine
MENU: Traditional Baked Mac and Cheese with Breadcrumbs; Skillet White Pasta with Root Veggies
Did we mention in this blog yet that it’s winter? So far that’s meant stews, chili competitions, having people over so we don’t have to leave the house, etc. But naturally it also means Macaroni and Cheese.
The Mac and Cheese my mom made us growing up wasn’t orange, and it wasn’t baked. It was really good though—thick, creamy, cheesy, and filling. At some point, when I started reading cookbooks, I realized that the butter-flour-milk sauce her dish was founded upon was known as bechamel, and when I made Mac and Cheese recently (on request by resident M&C-lover, Kate, pictured left), I also realized that bechamel was delicious licked straight from the spoon, pasta and cheese withheld.
So a few weeks later, when I had a half quart of milk about to go bad, I decided to fashion it into sauce for myself. With the other contents of my fridge (leftover roasted rutabaga, turnip, and potatoes) and my pantry (whole wheat angel hair) I mixed it, warmed it, and then put it under the broiler topped with just a bit of Swiss and Parmesan. The result was transcendent: rich with the taste of butter but still not heavy, and satisfying without making me feel a total glutton.
From my kitchen, small and prone to blue-plate creations, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
The rebel in me denied the traditional elbows a place in this dish, and the hippie opted for whole wheat pasta instead of white. Actually, I think the whole wheat “gobetti” I used stood up nicely to the sauce and the cheese, holding its own where a measly white pasta might have collapsed. On the other hand, I sometimes stick with sharp orange Cheddar for the cheese, but you can substitute white cheddar, as pictured, or anything you think will taste good.
1/2 pound cool-shaped pasta
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (orange for beauty’s sake)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (see TIP)
2 teaspoons butter
1 recipe white sauce (recipe follows)
TIP: Because the bread crumbs are prominent in this, I’d avoid prepackaged if that’s all that’s available (then just top with cheese). If you have a slice or two of bread, toast them, then blend/food process to form large crumbs. Toast the crumbs in a small frying pan with 1 teaspoon of the butter until they’re brown and fragrant. Season with a pinch of salt.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
With 1 teaspoon of butter, grease a baking dish, skillet, or casserole pan that will hold all the pasta. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente and drain.
In a baking dish, layer the pasta, sauce, and cheese haphazardly, reserving 1/2 cup cheese for the top. Sprinkle this cheese and cover with the toasted crumbs. (This can be done a few hours ahead; keep at cool room temperature until baking.)
Bake for 20-30 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese melted. Serve with something green.
White Sauce (Béchamel)
This plain sauce is the building block for both recipes. It makes enough for one large casserole of Mac & Cheese. If you’re only cooking for one, it’ll probably last at least three meals.
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk (low-fat is fine)
slightly less than 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard
dash of hot sauce (optional)
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent but not browned. Add the flour, blending it with the butter and cooking it for several minutes over medium heat.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in the microwave or a small pot almost to the boiling point.
Carefully add the warm milk to the butter-flour-onion mixture and stir it until it thickens. Add the salt, mustard, and a dash of hot sauce, and keep simmering for 4-5 minutes more. Set aside until ready to use. The sauce may develop a skin on top, but don’t worry—just stir it back in.
Skillet White Pasta with Vegetables
I’ve been roasting a lot of vegetables this season, basically taking whatever I buy at the farmers’ market Saturday and then keeping it in a container to pick at the rest of the week. The root vegetables I had (rutabaga, turnip, and Yukon Gold potatoes) took well to the white sauce, but any veggies will do. I can imagine this pasta with some frozen asparagus and corn, for example, or some leftover steamed broccoli and cauliflower.
2-4 oz. angel hair or other thin pasta
1/3 recipe white sauce
1/2 – 1 cup vegetables, cooked
2 tablespoons grated Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
Preheat the broiler and set a rack at the top of the oven.
Warm the vegetables and the white sauce in a small, oven-safe frying pan. Add spoonfuls of boiling water if the sauce is too thick.
Cook the angel hair in salted boiling water until al dente (angel hair cooks in 2-3 minutes). Drain.
Add the pasta to the sauce and vegetables and stir to combine. Sprinkle with the cheese. Put the pan under the broiler for about 4 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling. Grind pepper on top.