Monday, June 18, 2012

Fancy Macaroni and Cheese

Today I will share with you a secret.                    

Are you ready?                                                
Are you?

.....I hate measuring ingredients.

I do. It's true! I am not a very good baker, and this is definitely why. I am happy throwing this and that and the kitchen sink into a pot or pan and seeing what comes out. Many many times it is surprisingly delicious.

Like this pasta. I was SO surprised this actually turned out as good as it did, because of how impromptu everything was. This pasta was so good, I made it the next day. And the next. And then three more times the week after the pilot recipe. No lie, I'm just glad I did not have to get a cholesterol test after eating this so many times. It was that good! This pasta reminds me of an adult macaroni and cheese, since there is nothing yellow, powdery or overcooked about it like with the blue box (which still reserves a special spot in my heart, but taste buds evolve, no?). I love how quick it is, how forgiving the cheese sauce can be, how versatile it is! 

The keys were fresh mozzarella and fresh parmesan. The pre-shredded and prepackaged varieties are convenient and quicker, but you will taste a distinct difference if you buy fresh. I have been loving that the commissaries have stocked fresh mozzarella lately- it melts much better than the pre-shredded stuff. And freshly grated parmesan, oh my heavens, the gentle yet salty taste it renders is unbeatable. When parmesan is melted, it's not as sharp as it is in block form, and the mozzarella balances it out nicely. 
One of the dozens of times I made the pasta, I added a third cheese- just one little slice of smoked gouda (it was leftover from the copy cat CPK Chicken BBQ Pizza) and it did not blend well. It overpowered the dish with smoky flavor, which in another dish with a richer meat like tuna or steak it might have been the ticket, but the other flavors in this pasta were just too delicate for it to work.

Honestly, I hope you love this pasta as much as I do. And honestly, can someone out there please figure out a way to make mozzarella and parmesan fat free without losing the creaminess and taste? I will love you forever.

Amazingly Delicious Adult Macaroni and Cheese

A ButterThanToast original
Makes about 2 hearty servings, will serve 3 if there's a side dish

1/2 pound dry pasta (short cut works best)
1.5 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 cup freshly shredded parmesan
1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, diced
1 small can chicken breasts, drained
     *(could alternately use 3-6 ounces cooked chicken, depending on your taste)
2-3 tablespoons milk, divided
Freshly ground black peper
Cornstarch, if needed- reserve until the very end

In a medium to large sauce pan, bring some salted water to a rolling boil, add pasta and cook to al dente. Right before you drain, toss the spinach in the water with the pasta to quickly blanch it. Drain pasta and spinach in a colander in the sink, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid in a separate bowl. You probably won't need it, but in cooking it's better to have and not need than the other way around, right? As the pasta and spinach are draining, add the cheeses to the original pot and melt over low heat. Once melted, judge if you think you need to add a bit of milk, add only a tablespoon at a time and stir well. You want a sauce consistency. Add the chicken and ground pepper, stir to combine. Pour pasta and spinach back into the pot, stir well to coat everything with the cheese mixture. At this point it's purely a judgment call- if the sauce looks too thick, add another tablespoon of milk or cooking water to get the consistency you want. If it's too watery, make a mixture of 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 2 tablespoons water or cooking liquid. Stir it into the pasta, still on low heat, and it will thicken up nicely.

Dish onto a plate, and try not to inhale this pasta too quickly! :)

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