I probably spend more time thinking about cooking than I spend actually cooking. Sometimes, an idea sends me into a flurry of reading and researching, which often leaves me too tired to cook. A few weeks ago, I grabbed a box of teeny elbow macaroni off the shelf in the supermarket, and the thought of macaroni and cheese immediately entered my head, and firmly wedged itself in there. While I went on with my day, and the next one too for that matter, the thought of macaroni and cheese kept on popping up, at the most random intervals. In the shower, I chose the pan I would like to bake it in; on my way home from the Laundromat, I made a mental inventory of the items in my fridge, and noted that I should definitely accompany it with a crisp salad. I googled. I looked at my cookbooks. I narrowed my options down to four, and compared them.
One used a 2:1 ratio of cheese to noodle- “it’s suspended in pure molten cheddar,” Deb quoted, and that line nearly had me sold. Also, no parboiling of the pasta! No heating of the sauce! I then read she had made another version later, and that she preferred this one to the last, and also that this one reheated better. I was now leaning towards this second version, as we had a house guest, and I was envisioning a big pan which I could leave in the fridge, so that Yaki could dig into it upon coming home from work, and our guest could help himself upon returning from days wandering the city. I ended up being the one doing the digging, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Also, our guest did not do much wandering, but that’s neither here nor there.
Back to our options. There was also this guy who claimed he was on the quest for the perfect mac and cheese, and presented his recipe amidst a discussion of fantasy playing. Then there was a fourth option, from Gwyneth Paltrow’s new cookbook- again!- whose recipes seem to have inundated the internet. I would like to say that after much deliberation, I decided on the latter based on it’s cooking technique, or the fact that it’s more health-conscious (it is), rather, I did so based on the fact that I had all of it’s ingredients patiently waiting in my fridge, and the paradoxical outcome of my in-depth research and lengthy deliberations is that I often end up making whatever doesn’t require an additional trip to the store. While cooking, I told myself it was good I choose Gwyneth’s recipe, after all, since I enjoyed her spelt muffins so much, I was intrigued to try something else from her book, and also, Deb’s second recipe, which was Gwyneth’s main opponent was by Martha, and everyone already knows how awesome Martha is.
Although I knew this was a healthier version, somehow it didn’t quite register. I was a little disappointed at how light it was, it lacked the oomph I had been expecting- I guess it was that “suspended in cheese” phrase that had somehow affixed itself to the mental image I had of my mac and cheese. After comparing it to Martha’s version, and seeing that it had practically half of the cheese, milk and butter, I felt better about the lack of creaminess in my plate. I found myself eating this the following day, and the next, and… ok, just how honest to I have to be here? Let’s just say I ended up really enjoying it.
Macaroni and Cheese
With half of the cheese, milk and butter of some of it’s counterparts, it’s lighter than what you might be used to. It boasts a gorgeous crust- crunchy and golden, is a cinch to put together, and reheats well.
1 pound elbow macaroni
8 ounces mascarpone (I used cream cheese)
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup tightly packed grated Parmesan cheese, plus 1/2 cup for topping
1/2 cup milk
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Cook the macaroni in a large pot of boiling salted water, for 2 minutes less than indicated on the package.
Meanwhile, stir together the mascarpone, nutmeg and 1 cup of Parmesan in a small saucepan over a medium flame, until the cheeses melt together, about 2 minutes. Stir in the milk, add salt and pepper to taste, and keep the sauce warm over a low flame.
When the pasta is ready, drain it, and combine it with the sauce.
In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan and the bread crumbs.
Place the macaroni in a large baking dish, sprinkle with the bread crumb topping, dot with the butter, and bake for 15 minutes.