Friday, March 6, 2009

Four Cheese Macaroni with Thyme-Parmesan Crust


Whoa, Nellie, do we love mac and cheese in our household. Luckily we're both partial to the homemade variety, and Kraft hasn't seen its day in our kitchen for a very long time.

Macaroni and cheese has become the quintessential American dish, and it comes in many forms. This recipe is good old-fashioned mac and cheese with a few twists. I wanted to try Stonewall Kitchen's recipe, but it was a bit cheese-heavy so I tweaked it here and there to make it slightly less evil. You'll notice we each had a carrot alongside our meal, just to ease the guilt somewhat. But the idea here is that the portions are not huge. They're just right. We both finished our plates and we definitely felt satisfied.

The four cheeses are flexible. You could swap out one of them for something more stinky if you like. I think it would be great. I would recommend that you keep the fresh mozzarella, though, as it's what makes this recipe particularly unique.

Four Cheese Macaroni with Thyme-Parmesan Crust
adapted from "Stonewall Kitchen Favorites"
serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 pound short whole-wheat pasta, such as macaroni or ziti
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons EVOO
1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
1 cup skim or lowfat milk, warmed
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
4 oz. fresh mozzarella; half grated and half thinly sliced
1/4 cup grated gruyere
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup fresh plain whole-wheat bread crumbs

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 400. Cook the pasta: bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt it. Cook the pasta until barely al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Set aside.

2. Make the sauce: while the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a small saucepan with 1 teaspoon EVOO over low heat. When it has melted and is starting to sizzle, add the flour and whisk until combined. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Whisk in half of the warm milk in a slow, steady stream. Whisk until smooth and the sauce begins to thicken, about 2 minutes. Add remaining milk, whisk again until smooth, and increase heat to medium high, stirring frequently, until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

3. Make it cheesy: Add all the cheeses except parmesan to the sauce, whisking constantly to prevent cheese from becoming lumpy. When it is completely smooth, add salt and pepper to taste and 1 teaspoon of thyme.

4. Combine everyone together: Pour the sauce over the pasta in the pot and stir to combine. Spoon a quarter of the pasta into each of two ramekins or oven-safe single-serve dishes. Place slices of mozzarella on top of each pile of pasta. Put the rest of the pasta on top of the mozzarella.

5. The topping: Mix the parmesan, remaining thyme, and bread crumbs together in a small bowl. Sprinkle evenly over the two servings of mac. Drizzle with remaining teaspoon EVOO. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden brown. Serve hot.

Believe it or not, this goes really well with a glass of good sauvignon blanc. Why not make your kid-friendly meal a bit more sophisticated? That's all I'm saying.

Enjoy!

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