That's right. Macaroni is TOO easy to make it borders on boring. Hey. Sometimes boring is good. What can you do to make a good mac & cheese better? I have a few ideas, based on what other family and friends have enjoyed. Is it just me or do people tend to over think about things sometimes? This can be especially true with cooking. What got me to write this? I remember I was speaking to a friend a while back and they felt uncomfortable with cooking macaroni. I said that mac and cheese is one of the easiest things to make. Think about it for a minute. If it's so hard to do, why is it one of the more popular foods college students make? You boil water. Place pasta in the boiling water. Wait 5-10 minutes (depending if pasta is fresh or dried). Drain the water (I generally keep enough to cover the bottom of the pot. This helps me melt the cheese should I not use milk). Add the cheese. Done.
In fact, you can actually substitute macaroni with another pasta. In fact, it’s been a while since I used macaroni. So what type of pasta did I use instead? I use several (especially when I can find them) but tend to use those that can hold a sauce well. As you read below, you'll notice I mention the Italian root word or phrase that the pasta gets its name. I'll start off with these listed below:
1. Cavatelli (from the Italian root word "cavare", which means "to hollow"). I don't see this much when I eat out but I do tend to see this more in supermarket delis (in particular with salads). It's just as the name implies- hollow. It might be the width of a tip of a pen (and that might be big).
2. Conchiglie (Italian word for seashell with conchilglioni being its larger sibling) is just as the name suggests. It looks like a seashell. It's better when the cheese (or whatever I put in it) can actually get in this pastas hollow shell-like space. Great texture and one I use on a regular basis.
3. Fusilli, (from the root word fucile meaning rifle). This I don't think works as a substitute for what I have mentioned before but could work well in a cold dish.
4. Orrechiette, or in Italian meaning "little ears", is a cross between a bowl and a human ear. That's what it looks like.
5. Gomito (Elbow) Macaroni. This is the one many tend to be familiar with. This is part of the tubular pasta family because it looks a tube (makes sense, right). There are different sizes to this pasta as well. Some tend to make them bigger and some smaller (like what you see in stores). Its sibling is the pipette (Italian for "little pipes" and both are related to the Cavatappi. Cavatappi is also known as cellenati, which translates from the Italian words cavi tappi, meaning "tap extractor" or "corkscrew."
Now I'm no expert on this but let me be honest. I am only speaking from my own personal tastes alone. I put this list together because these are things I know worked for me. I believe all of these can be a substitute for your basic macaroni and cheese or macaroni salad for that matter. In fact, if I make a soup, I might you two of these pastas listed to add a different dimension to the dish (or at least create an illusion that I am anyway). The reason I picked all of the pastas I selected is because all of them have a few things in common. One obviously is shape. As a result of the shape, the next reason is that they tend to hold a sauce well (not only coating the outside but also the inside). I won't get into how to make them because the tubular pastas I mentioned I have made (flap pasta, I'm pretty good with although I don't have my own recipe for it). Could you use rigatoni, ziti, or even penne? Sure I could but I feel for the twist on mac and cheese I am using, the ones I listed worked better for my tastes.
Now for the twist. I think I posted this in a different entry but it is worth repeating:
1. Type of cheese- Velveeta (yep, I admit it because if I am adding other cheeses, it serves as a good base and melts easily), colby, monterey jack, colby jack/coljack, hot pepper, or cheddar (sometimes cheddar is hard to melt but has a nice flavor). I think ricotta and provolone among others seem to be better for lasagna. Goat cheese is fantastic but may be awkward tasting if you never had it or has been overcooked. I had some with goat cheese years ago in Maui and loved it.
2. Please consider this. Always remember those who may have some allergies. Some people can't eat eggs, some can't eat cheese and some can't have any dairy whatsoever (I've know many people use some or all to make the sauce thick). There are dairy free options of cheese but I have not tried them (and doubt I will unless I have to).
3. Imagine if you want to put something else in as well. For example, I may put tomato, chopped onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, peas or similar foods to create an almost one-pot effect.
4. Anyone recall this Emerilism? "The water doesn't come seasoned. Well, I put whatever seasonings I am going to add, I put it in the boiling water while the pasta cooks. People have shared that it DID make some difference.
5. Do you want to bake it? No problem. Get the cheese and whatever you want to put in it and use the pot you will bake it in. Then find some bread crumbs and cover the top layer of the dish. Some believe you should cover for the entire time, some not at all and some (as I do) starting covered and finishing uncovered (the last 5-10 minutes or so).
For the record, I am not trying to reinvent the wheel. Seriously. My goal was simple. I hoped to give others who might see this confidence to try it out. Even those who are more advanced in their cooking skills to think outside the box. Only time will tell if I succeeded (if I find out at all).