January 05, 2003

Pasta Hack Redux

Today I made mac and cheese and attempted (sort of) to do the "raw pasta" approach. I say attempted because I cooked the pasta halfway (6 minutes of a recommended 12 minute cooking time) -- what can I say, I'm lame and decided not to "risk" it even though I was the only one eating it this time.

I used a ridgged shell instead of elbow, because I'm not actually that big of a fan of traditional elbow. Boiled the pasta for 6 minutes, it was still incredibly raw. Kept a coffee mug of the cooking liquid to add to the sauce.

The sauce is a standard bechamel (butter, flour, cooked in a roux, then milk added). I was a bit shy of milk, so I added some water as well. Salt, pepper, and plain old yellow mustard (maybe a tablespoon) for color and flavor. I made it slightly runnnier than I want the final pre-cooking sauce to be. This is because the cheese will thicken it up, and it will also evaporate in the oven, again, thickening it.

About third of a pound of generic swiss cheese, and almost double that of sharp cheddar, shredded. Dump that into the sauce and stir until melted. The total amount of sauce came out to just shy of two quarts (this is for a pound of pasta). When the pasta was done cooking, I drained it and added the cup of water to the sauce. The result was very runny (much more so than I normally use with slightly more fully cooked pasta).

Dumped all of the pasta and sauce into a large casserole and shook it around a bit to make sure the sauce was even. I used to be all careful about layering in the sauce, then pasta, then more sauce etc. I've since learned it doesn't make a difference. The pasta is basically swimming in sauce at this point. It looks way too wet.

Topped it all with about two cups of fresh bread crumbs. I had some leftover olive oil fugasse from the other weekend and ground that up with some parmasagn cheese. I used a hefty helping of the mixture on the top -- I love the crunchy part on top of the smooth saucy pasta! Normally I add some melted butter to the crumbs, but this bread had a good amount of oil in it already.

Baked uncovered at 350 for 30-45 minutes. Should be well browned on top and very bubbly. Pretty forgiving on the time, actually. Came out basically the way all of my mac and cheese does (ie, I think it's great) -- so next time, I'll try no boiling of the pasta.

The order I list things about is actually wrong in terms of how I make it:
- preheat oven
- boil water
- melt butter, mix in flour and make roux
- add milk, stir, let simmer, add mustard, salt, pepper
- add pasta to water
- grate cheese and add to sauce, turn off heat
- butter casserole
- grind breadcrumbs
- drain pasta saving 1 cup liquid
- assemble
Total time from start to getting it in the oven was about 10 minutes.

Posted by dowdy at January 5, 2003 12:40 PM