Ten-Minute Mac and Cheese
Well, maybe eleven — the time depends entirely upon how long the pasta cooks. Start the cheese sauce when you put the water on to boil and it will be ready by the time the pasta is done; then combine the mezzani and sauce and ladle your creamy Mac into deep bowls. Macaroni and Cheese out the box takes longer!
Chef DuFresne, who is a purist when it comes to Mac and Cheese, prepares this minimalist classic at his downtown New York restaurant, 71 Clinton Fresh Food. He doesn’t recommend adding any salt, pepper, or spices, letting the pristine flavor of American cheese carry the dish.
1/2 pound mezzani, or substitute penne or shells
2 cups whole milk
15 slices American cheese, broken into small pieces
5 tsp. of cornstarch
2 tbsp. warm water
1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs
1.Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 10 to 13 minutes.
2.Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the milk to a boil. Whisk in the cheese, lower the heat to medium, and cook until completely melted.
3.In a small bowl or cup, dissolve the cornstarch in the water and whisk it into the milk mixture; raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking occasionally. Remove from the heat and continue whisking until thickened slightly.
4.When the pasta is cooked, drain it well and pour it into the pot with the sauce, stirring to combine. Divide among three or four serving bowls, sprinkle with the toasted bread crumbs, and serve
Greek (and Organic) Macaroni and Cheese
Makes 4-6 servings
An amazing dish with lively colors and textures, this suggests a Greek salad transformed. Chef Pouillon of Nora and Asia Nora, in Washington, DC, uses only organic ingredients here in all the food she cooks, and they are worth seeking out when you shop. Feta contrasts with the sweet, juicy tomatoes and fresh spinach, and the herbs sing of Greece.
1 pound macaroni
1/2 pound spinach, washed and stemmed
1 1/2 pounds crumbled feta cheese (about 6 cups)
2 1/3 cups whole milk
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2/3 olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
3/4 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tbsp. finely chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup pitted and coarsely chopped black olives
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs
1.Preheat oven to 350F
2.Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and place in a large mixing bowl.
3.Blanche the spinach: Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Have ready a large bowl of ice water and slotted spoon. Add the spinach to the simmering water (in three or four batches) and submerge it. Let it cook for about 15 seconds, remove with the slotted spoon, and plunge into the ice water. Let the spinach cool completely, drain it, and squeeze out the excess water. If the leaves are large, chop then into bite-size pieces. Reserve
4.In a blender or food processor, puree the feta cheese with the milk, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Blend in two batches, if necessary. This will not be completely smooth; there will be very small chunks of cheese remaining. Stir the cheese mixture into the cooked pasta, then add the minced rosemary and thyme, the garlic, red pepper flakes, olives, cherry tomatoes, and blanched spinach.
5.Place in a 9 by 13-inch baking pan and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese and the mixed herbs. Bake on the middle shelf until the pasta is heated through and the top is slightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes.
Today’s Macaroni and Cheese
Makes 8 servings
Rick Bayless, chef and owner of Chicago’s Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, confesses that he grew up on the wonderful slow-baked macaroni and cheese served at his parents’ restaurant, which he calls “crusty cheese over submissive macaroni.” His adult version is creamy and a little “edgy” — with the delicious jolt of salsa.
2 cups milk
4 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups good-quality salsa
3 cups (3/4 pound) shredded Cheddar cheese Kosher salt, about 1 1/2 tsp.
1 pound dried pasta (elbow macaroni, cavatappi, rotini, or fusilli)
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
1.Fill a large pot with about 6 quarts of water and set over high heat. Warm the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, or in a glass measuring cup in a microwave, for about 1 minute. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then stir in the flour and whisk until the mixture turns a deep golden, about 2 minutes. Add the warmed milk all at once and continue to whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a full boil, 4 or 5 minutes. (Whisk diligently and there will be no lumps.) Stir in the salsa, remove from the heat, then stir in the cheese, stirring until it melts. Taste and season generously with salt.
2.When the water has come to a boil, add the pasta. Stir well so no pieces stick together and boil until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly and return to the pot. Stir in the cheese sauce, then spoon into a serving dish. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Note: If you want a wonderful contrasting texture, spoon the macaroni and cheese into a buttered baking dish. Top with 1/2 cup bread crumbs mixed with 1 tablespoon melted butter and bake in a preheated 375F oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until richly browned and crisp.