Ever since I was a young girl, I have had an adoration for mac and cheese. Granted, it wasn’t always fancy; there is something to be said for those blue Kraft boxes with their transformative powdered cheese. It didn’t matter the time of day, either. Young Kelsey had a taste for cheese-slathered elbow noodles and would willingly eat them for breakfast, if given the opportunity.
As I grew up, my tastes matured. First, this was toward the “Deluxe” version of my boxed childhood favorite. But then, something interesting happened. Somewhere between college and adulthood, I learned how to make a roux. For those of you who have never heard me wax unattractive about the fun I have following the French tradition of mixing butter and flour to thicken cream-based sauces–clearly you do not read my blog…ahem, ahem…it’s nice to meet you!
Excuse me while I repeat myself, but the roux was a turning point for me and my interest in cooking. Sure, it sounds simple. Yet there was something truly magical about that moment when suddenly the sauce I had been whisking became thick, fragrant, and perfectly suited for the noodles I had prepared in its wake. Until that moment, I don’t know that I truly believed I had it in me. There were all these classically trained chefs whose work I had read about and admired, who probably used a roux to make things all the time. And then almost-adult Kelsey found herself doing the same exact thing! That was big.
Here’s the thing: once you’ve figured out how to make the good stuff, you become a little curious. When I stumbled upon this recipe in the New York Times (thanks to several adverts indicating that it was the best of the best, etc.), I kind of had to throw my pro-roux tastes out the window for a moment. Please know that I was skeptical immediately. Cottage cheese does not an amazing mac and cheese make, AMIRIGHT? But friends, I was so wrong. So off base. In fact, the only tweaking that this recipe required was, in my expert opinion, four extra ounces of elbow noodles. I’m sure if you leave them out, it will only enhance the creaminess of the sauce. It’s just, you know me and my heavy hands. A half pound, as suggested by the NYT, just did not feel like enough. And the way I made it tasted pretty outlandishly amazing, though that quiet, protesting voice in my mind still notes that it is roux-less, full of cottage cheese, and made with too many macaroni.
Silence yourself, Reason. Eat the delicious, cheesy noodles.
NYT Mac and Cheese
Adapted from New York Times
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cottage cheese (not lowfat)
2 cups milk (not skim)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
12 oz elbow pasta, uncooked
Heat oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use 1 tablespoon butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan. In a blender, purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. Reserve ¼ cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes. Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.