Is it really summer? It sure doesn’t feel like it. The last few weeks of rain have been good for farmers, but not for your average city-dweller (like me) who needs some sun at least a few days each week. I shouldn’t need a jacket at noon in June.
To make the most of the spirit-squelching weather, I thought I’d make something comforting. Something like chili. Or mashed potatoes. Or shakshuka. But I didn’t have any beans. Or potatoes. Or tomatoes, peppers, or onions. What did I have? Cheese, milk, and an endless supply of pasta.
And then the good Midwestern girl in me came out. Macaroni and cheese. That’s what you make when you have an excess of cheese and pasta.
I wish I could tell you this is a long-loved family recipe. It’s not. I made it up as I went along.
I wish I could tell you it has some distant connection to the old country, Israel, or a Jewish festival. It doesn’t.
What I can tell you is that it’s gooey, soul-soothing, family-friendly, and quick to make, to boot. And, if you bake it in a pretty dish, it can even feel a little fancy — certainly fancier than anything from a box. Definitely fancy enough for Shabbat.
Serve this homey comfort food with a loaf of challah (homemade or store-bought) and a salad (bonus points if the lettuce comes from your garden!) topped with thinly-sliced apples, nuts (I like the cinnamon roasted almonds at Trader Joe’s), and a sweet dressing, like raspberry vinaigrette or poppyseed.
‘Homemade Reduced-Fat Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe can be made in a casserole or round baking dish and finished in the oven, or by simply topping the cooked pasta with the cheese sauce for a faster stove-to-table time. And, if you’re the type to throw caution to the wind, this would be just as good (maybe better!) with all full-fat cheese. I like to use a blend of 3-4 cheeses regardless of fat content. Don’t use too much aged cheese, which “breaks” faster than younger, creamier cheeses.
8 oz whole wheat rotini, penne, or other shaped pasta
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 C skim milk
~2 oz semi-soft cheese, like gouda, shredded
2 wedges Laughing Cow cheese
1/2 C reduced-fat/2% shredded Italian Blend cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of dry mustard
1/8 – 1/4 C grated Parmesan
- If baking, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
- Boil the pasta according to package instructions (about 8-10 minutes — 8 if baking, 10 if not), then drain.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan (about 1 qt size). Stir in the flour to make a roux.
- Add skim milk. Heat to just below boiling.
- Slowly add cheeses, stirring to incorporate and keep from burning on the bottom. (Tip: the Laughing Cow cheese will melt better if you break it up into smaller pieces.)
- Once cheeses are in, add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and mustard, stirring to incorporate.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. This will help keep the sauce from “breaking” (when it starts looking like chalk in milky liquid).
- When cheeses have fully melted and the sauce is smooth, you can either serve it, or pour it over pasta in a baking dish.
- Top with Parmesan. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 20-30 minutes, until the top has browned slightly.