Stovetop macaroni and cheese need not come from a box to be quick
December 15, 2006
Macaroni and cheese shouldn’t have to come from a box to be quick, or from an oven to be good. And no matter how it’s made, it doesn’t have to be a total wash nutritionally.
But would a macaroni and cheese that met all three – speedy, stovetop and at least a little healthy – still be worth eating?
To find out, I started by rethinking the pasta. While some people object to the heartier taste and texture of whole grain pastas, they work well with thick sauces (which tend to obscure the differences that bother some people).
To that end, I also ditched the more traditional elbow macaroni. On the assumption that more cheese per noodle is better, I opted for spirals because the coils better trap sauces.
Since I obviously had no plans to skimp on the cheese sauce, I wanted to add some greens to help balance the nutritional karma.
For this, I went for broccoli florets. Like pasta spirals, broccoli is great for trapping cheese sauces. A quick bath in boiling water before adding to the dish served as the perfect tenderizer.
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That’s where the healthy part ends.
Making the cheese sauce on the stove required a base that while thick, still could be poured over and mixed through the pasta. Creme fraiche (which looks and taste like a cross between sour cream and cream cheese) was perfect.
In a saucepan over medium heat, creme fraiche (sold in the cheese section of most grocers) melts quickly into a smooth and creamy sauce. To this, I added Cheddar cheese and a bit of red pepper flakes.
Assembly is as simple as combining the parts in a large bowl and giving them a quick toss. The result is perfect winter comfort food. Quick. On the stove. And just a little healthy.
STOVETOP MACARONI AND CHEESE
(Start to finish: 15 minutes)
10 ounces whole wheat pasta spirals
8-ounce container creme fraiche
1Ú2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
4 cups broccoli florets
2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring two medium saucepans of water, one lightly salted, to a boil.
In the salted pan, cooked the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1Ú2 cup cooking water, then drain and return pasta to the pan. Set aside.
In the second saucepan, add the broccoli florets. Return to a simmer and cook until bright green and just tender, about 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the florets to the pan with the cooked pasta. Toss lightly.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk the creme fraiche and red pepper flakes until smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in the Cheddar cheese until melted and very smooth.
To the cheese sauce, mix in about half of the reserved pasta cooking water, or as needed to get desired consistency. Season to taste with black pepper.
To serve, either divide the pasta and florets between serving bowls and top with cheese sauce, or add cheese sauce to the pan with pasta and broccoli, toss to coat evenly, then divide.
Makes 4 servings.