Monday, November 19, 2007

Sinful/Ethical Macaroni and Cheese


There has been a lot going on Chez ToastPoint in recent months, not least of which is that its denizens decided to stop living in sin. So I am now Mrs. Human Vacuum. But just when the sinfulness quotient had fallen to near zero in our household, I decided to make mac and cheese. What’s that you say? Mac and cheese--the dinner of choice for millions of angelic children everywhere--seems innocent enough? Ha. Not if the ratio of cheese to pasta is 2:1. You read that right: the dish pictured above contains one half of a pound of pasta and a full pound of cheese.

This recipe was on the “most emailed” list at The New York Times homepage for weeks, and deservedly so. Before now, I’d never made mac and cheese at home from scratch, but restaurant mac and cheese nearly always disappoints. Too much white sauce, not enough cheese, and never enough crisped, chewy top layer. This recipe answers all those objections. It is the Platonic form of mac and cheese. (And easy to make too!)

So what occasioned this dive into gluttony now? Lately, H.V. has been playing tennis with a friend of his on the occasional weekend evening. The boys return from their game and I feed them--a pleasingly domestic event. This particular friend is a very ethical eater. He is the sort of person who carries around a card in his wallet with lists of which fish are OK and which are off limits from an ecological standpoint. He’s evangelical about his decisions in an ultra-low key way. He’s also a gratifying big eater, which makes a cook forgive the slight inconvenience of a big list of verboten ingredients. And this meal goes to show that you can be ethical and sinful all at once.

***
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
The recipe, as provided in The New York Times, which I followed very nearly exactly, with excellent results.

2 Tablespoons butter
1 cup cottage cheese (not lowfat) (NOTE: I used 2 percent)
2 cups milk (not skim) (NOTE: I used whole milk)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch cayenne
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1⁄2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked.

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use 1 tablespoon butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan. (NOTE: I used a 7 inch round deep casserole and it was fine)

2. In a blender, purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. Reserve 1⁄4 cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. (NOTE: Whirl everything but the milk first, to break up the cottage cheese curds)

3. Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

***
We started with my favorite pea soup and finished with homemade pumpkin bread, but The New York Times suggests pairing this perfect mac and cheese with a green salad and a glass of wine, which sounds about right to me, too.

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