Tag Archives: noodles

Grown-Up Mac and Cheese

29 Apr

As with take-out pizza versus homemade, there is also a time and a place for boxed mac and cheese and a time for homemade.  Is it bad to admit that I still enjoy the blue box variety?  I feel like that’s ok, since I appreciate the blue box kind for completely different reasons than a gourmet homemade version (namely nostalgia and the freedom to douse it in ketchup – which is probably gross to many people – oops).   Today’s recipe is for a “grown up” mac and cheese (with spinach and crispy fried shallots on top) – but really it’s just for a homemade variety – since the recipe is completely adaptable for all tastes and ages.

Once you know the basic process for making macaroni and cheese, the possibilities are endless.  This is a more classic version of macaroni and cheese, with cheddar and Gruyère (with spinach added to make me feel slightly less guilty about this indulgent dinner – and really, the cheese and pasta mellow out the spinachy taste – amen).  The crispy shallots (which to me are a more gourmet spin on French’s fried onions) add a lovely salty and tangy bite – don’t skip them – they really add that extra something.  But, like I said before, the possibilities are endless – you can use any combination of cheeses and/or veggies and/or meat you want (or use no veggies or meat at all!).  One of my personal favorites is using Pepper Jack cheese and tiny broccoli florets for a so-called “Mac and Jack” spicy macaroni and cheese.  Yum.

This is a quick version of macaroni and cheese, which skips any baking in the oven.  But you can certainly pour the macaroni into a baking dish, top with bread crumbs and/or cheese (and/or crispy shallots!) and bake until golden brown.  I can’t decide which method I like better – without baking, the sauce stays so luxuriously creamy and saucy; but when baked, the crunchy golden brown top is pretty delicious too.  I’m torn.

Mac and Cheese with Spinach and Crispy Shallots

Time: 25 minutes; Yield: 8 servings

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups shredded cheese (I recommend a mix of aged sharp cheddar, Gruyère and/or Jack)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
  • Few grates of fresh nutmeg
  • 8 ounces fresh spinach, chopped finely (optional)
  • 1 pound cavatappi (hollow corkscrew shaped pasta), or any other noodle you like
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • Flour, to coat shallots
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, or enough to generously coat a saute pan
  • Salt and pepper

Making the Sauce: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour.  Cook for about 2 minutes, then add milk.  Bring to a boil (~8 min), then reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thickened, whisking often to prevent burning.  Season with salt and pepper.  Once thickened, add the cheeses, mustard, Old Bay and nutmeg, whisking to combine.

Cooking Pasta and Spinach:  Boil pasta according to package directions.  When the pasta is ready, add the chopped spinach to the boiling water to blanch, then drain both the pasta and spinach (ensuring to get as much water out of the spinach as possible).

Crispy Shallots (aka grown up French’s fried onions):  While sauce and pasta are cooking, toss the thinly sliced shallots with enough flour to coat.  Heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat, add shallots, and cook until crispy and golden brown.  Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain excess oil.

Assembly:  When sauce is finished and pasta and spinach are cooked, pour sauce on top of pasta and spinach and toss to coat.  Don’t add all the sauce all at once, in case it’s too much (wait, is that possible?!).  Top with crispy fried shallots and serve immediately.

Isn’t it surprisingly easy to make homemade mac and cheese?  I think so :)  What other flavor combinations do you think would be good?  I’m thinking anything with bacon would be pretty amazing, but maybe that’s just me….

Homemade Pappardelle

30 Jan

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to try cooking new things, new things I’ve never made before which may intimidate me.  Homemade pasta definitely fell into that category.

I’ve made gnocchi before, but never real pasta.  I guess I always assumed I needed some fancy pasta maker attachment for my Kitchenaid or something like that.  But then I noticed that this recipe for homemade pappardelle requires no fancy equipment and is actually categorized as “easy”.  I can do easy.

I would agree that this pasta was pretty easy to make, considering I thought it would be down-right hard.  The only frustrating part was when my eggs sort of overflowed over the edges of my flour volcano (see the steps below for explanation!) and so my hands got all sticky trying to save it and knead it.  Eventually, after adding more flour, it came together and resembled dough.  After which, it was almost therapeutic to knead the dough!

I think half the appeal of homemade pasta is the taste and texture (it really is chewier and better), and half is the satisfaction that comes from knowing you made it out of nothing (flour and eggs count as nothing).

So I encourage you to try making this at home – you may surprise yourself!  Soon I will be posting the recipe for the braised oxtail I served atop these beautiful noodles, but until then, enjoy them with copious amounts of butter, parmesan and/or sauce and meatballs.

Homemade Pappardelle  recipe from here

Time: 40 active, 40 inactive; Yield: 20 ounces of pasta

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 cup semolina flour*, plus more  for dusting
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of salt

*Semolina flour can either be found in the regular baking/flour aisle or the organic/health food aisle (near all the other alternative flours):

Sift both flours together, pile on a clean counter, and make a well in the center.   Make sure the well is very deep so the eggs don’t runneth over in the next step:

Place the eggs, olive oil and a pinch of salt in a bowl, then pour into the well.  With a fork, break up the eggs, then gradually mix the wet ingredients into the flour mixture just until combined.   This was the very messy step.  Try to keep the eggs in the center of the well and very slowly mix in the flour.  If it’s too sticky and messy, add some more flour.

Knead by hand, adding more flour if it’s too sticky, until the dough comes together.  This was the challenging part – try not to freak out about how messy your hands are, like I did.

Gather the dough into 2 equal-size balls; flour the surface. To knead each piece, push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, fold the dough over itself and turn it counterclockwise. Continue pushing, folding and turning until the dough is smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes.

Pat each piece into a ball. Flatten slightly, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. (You can freeze 1 ball for later, or roll out both and freeze the cut pasta).

To roll out the dough, place it on a lightly floured surface and dust with flour. Starting in the middle, push away from you with a rolling pin, easing up on the pressure as you approach the edge.  Continue rolling the dough into a sheet, turning occasionally, until you can see your fingers through the bottom. Getting it thin enough is key.  Let dry about 10 minutes.

Dust the top of the sheet of dough with flour and loosely roll it into a cylinder.

Using a sharp knife, cut into 3/4-inch-wide slices.

Unwrap the noodles; dust with semolina and gently toss to separate. Place on a sheet pan and cover with a towel until ready to cook (or freeze in freezer bags for up to 2 months).

In a very large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water, cook the pappardelle until al dente, about 5 minutes.