Saturday, February 7, 2009

Kraft Doesn't Do It Better

I've been craving macaroni and cheese.  Really, what I want is the old boxed variety made with whole milk and lots of butter but I have no control mechanisms when it comes to Kraft and I'm afraid I'd eat the box in one sitting.  

But I did come across a recipe the other day that involved the introduction of one very Kraft-orange vegetable to a basic macaroni and cheese recipe for astounding results.  I cut said recipe in half (no single person needs to make an entire pound of macaroni for dinner unless she plans on eating it for the next week) for a more manageable meal.  

Here goes: cook half a pound of pasta (the equivalent to half a small box; in this case, I used Barilla's enriched macaroni, which has more fiber and protein than normal white pasta.  They were out of whole-wheat) and drain but do not rinse.  The starch in pasta--let this be a lesson to all drainers--helps sauce and cheese stick to it.  While the pasta's a-draining, melt one cup of skim milk and one package (generally between 10 and 12 ounces) of frozen, pureed winter squash.  Bird's Eye makes it, and I'm sure every health food store on the east coast sells it.  You can use two percent milk for a little more creaminess, if that's what you desire.  I happened to have skim on hand.  The end product should be bright orange and fully integrated.  

In a separate bowl, grate a cup of extra-sharp full-fat cheddar cheese and a third of a cup of Monterey Jack.  Add to this a quarter cup of part-skim ricotta, a half a teaspoon of course salt, a half a teaspoon powdered mustard, and a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper.  Grind some fresh black pepper over the mixture and pour the warm squash/milk mixture over the cheeses.  Mix the cheese and squash until the cheese has melted completely.  Add the cooked macaroni. It will seem watery at first, but the oven will evaporate the extra moisture.  

Put the final product in a baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Top with bread crumbs (I mixed mine with a teaspoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of parmesan cheese) and put in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sides are bubbling.  Put under the broiler for a final few minutes to brown the top.  To feed more than two or three people, double this recipe, though it probably feed up to four comfortably.

And there you have it.  You can taste the squash, but only a little, and it gives a nice texture to the dish.  Plus, you're getting vegetables, which too many of us skip out on.  Ricotta cheese can be a bit problematic because it becomes a little curd-y when warmed.  I'm wondering if this dish would be better with non-fat Greek yogurt, the extremely thick and tangy variety that's everywhere you look here in Queens.  Something to consider for a follow-up attempt.  

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