Category Archives: pasta

mac n’ cheese, please

Macaroni and cheese is a little like chocolate — often it’s ordinary, sometimes it’s sublime, but either way it’s tasty. I will admit that I have been guilty of coming home, tired and hungry, after a long day at work and opening a box of shells and powdered cheese. With enough black pepper, I find this a totally comforting, one bowl dinner. But it always makes me feel sad, because with just a little more energy and not much more time, I could have eaten something wonderful.

Mac n' Cheese

Anne, of course, is a big fan of macaroni and cheese (the woman subsists, essentially, on complex carbohydrates and cheese). So having a recipe for homemade mac n’ cheese that I can put together on a week night with stuff we almost always have on hand is essential to my marriage. I like to bake this version in a low gratin dish because you get a larger surface area for covering with breadcrumbs that get all toasty and crusty when fused with cheese in the oven. The interior, though, is creamy with a significant bite from the cheese. If you enlist a partner to grate the cheese while you boil the pasta and whisk the sauce, you can have the whole thing assembled and in the oven in 25 minutes.

Macaroni & Cheese

½ lb elbows or penne
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the dish
2 tablespoons AP flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon onion powder (I know, I know – so sue me…)
pinch of nutmeg
10 oz. shredded cheese (I use 6 – 8 oz. sharp cheddar and gruyere for the rest)
1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Pre-heat oven to 350º and butter a 2 quart gratin dish. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water for about 1 minute less than the package directions for al dente. Drain and set aside. Meanwhile, in a 2 quart saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat until foaming subsides. Dump in flour, all at once, and whisk vigorously until the flour is incorporated but the mixture is still pale gold. Slowly whisk in milk and simmer, stirring frequently, over medium low heat until the sauce is thick, about 15 minutes.*

Cream SauceOnce the sauce is thickened, add salt and pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper) and remaining spices, whisking until thoroughly combined. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the 2/3 of the grated cheese by handfuls, whisking to incorporate after each addition. Taste the sauce at this point to see if it needs more salt or pepper. Pour sauce over the cooked pasta and stir to combine.

Pour half the pasta and cheese sauce mixture into the prepared gratin dish. Sprinkle on half the remaining grated cheese. Add the rest of the pasta mixture and sprinkle with remaining cheese. In a small bowl, melt remaining tablespoon of butter and mix with bread crumbs. Sprinkle buttered bread crumbs on top of macaroni and cheese and bake about 30 minutes until hot and bubbling. If your bread crumbs aren’t brown enough for your liking, put the dish under the broiler for 2 – 3 minutes.

Mac n' Cheese on Plate

Serves 4 for dinner, 6 — 8 as a side dish.

* If you want to speed up the sauce, you can warm the milk in the microwave (or on the stove) before adding it to the roux.



If you are a kind and generous person, and your friend tells you that he loves fettucine alfredo, but no one ever makes it for him, and by the way, he’s coming over for dinner this week, what do you do? Clearly, you make fettucine alfredo, even if you find it to be a cloying, dull dish. But, if you’re bossy like me, and you think you know better than a seven-year-old about what to have for dinner, you make lemon pasta and say something idiotic like, “It’s just like fettucine alfredo, but with lemon.”

Lemon Pasta

I suspect that’s where I went wrong. If I’d just told Ellis we were having Anne’s favorite lemon pasta for dinner, I think it might have gone over better. Instead, I teased the poor kid with the promise of his most dreamed-about dish, only to let him down by tweaking it in a slightly adult way. As he said to me, his mouth half full of chicken sausage and a Patriots’ ski cap pulled down thugishly over his eyebrows, “It would have been better without the lemon.” But don’t let this disuade you. This lemon pasta is totally delicious, even if it’s a little adult. I know it looks like a fair amount of cream and butter, but somehow the lemon lifts the whole thing right off your tongue and makes the pasta taste bright. It is, very likely, the only creamy pasta dish I like to eat. But I fear there’s a classic fettucine alfredo in my future.

Lemon Pasta
Adapted From Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons lemon juice
zest from 1 lemon
1 pound fresh or dried fettucine or linguini
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup Parmesan cheese
chopped chives, for garnish

In a large sauté pan with high sides, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in cream and lemon juice to combine and heat through. Cover pan and turn off heat while you cook the pasta. Once the pasta is al dente, remove it from the water, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the cream sauce and toss to coat. Add the lemon zest, salt and pepper. If the sauce is too thick, thin it with a little of the pasta cooking water. Transfer the pasta to serving bowls and sprinkle with a tablespoon cheese and chopped chives. Serves 6 — 8 as a first course.