I promise this will be the last time I post on this particular topic (for a while at least). If you think I know only macaroni, you would be wrong and I will prove that in the days ahead. I wrote how easy it is to cook it so now you'll get the chance to see how I do it. The thing is it's not always set that I am going to make it this way but this will give those who are interested to see how I think.
For this exercise, let's just keep this simple. You do not have fresh pasta to work with (although that really isn't an issue unless you don't know how or have time to make it). So here's how I make mine.
John's Mystery Mac & Cheese
+= beware for potential allergic reactions.
- 1 lbs of Cellentani (or any pasta I mentioned in my prior blog posting; use caution when using wheat as some are allergic to wheat products. I'm a fan of Barilla PLUS).
- 12-24 oz cheese (your choice; if you use more than one type of cheese, try to use even amounts. This is especially true if you live somewhere like Wisconsin, where access to different cheeses is available).+
- about a cup of pasta water (as or milk as for those who are not milk intolerant).
- 1-3 eggs+
- spices (I prefer the obvious salt & pepper. I add others such as cayenne pepper, oregano, and hot paprika to name 3). Add to your liking (some people like more of one and less of the other.
- 2 bell peppers* (you choose the color or use what you have).
- onion (I use at least 1/2 of an onion, type again is what you have on hand).
- mushrooms (at least 8 oz, button mushrooms should be ok but if you have other types, they will also work here).*
- diced chiles*
- at least 1 tomato (or minimum 12 oz can of DICED tomatoes).*
- 1/4 cup flour*
- 1-2 tablespoons of of Miracle Whip or salad dressing.*+.
- bread crumbs
- olive oil
- garlic (fresh or powder)
- meat or chicken; seafood can be used but since I am allergic to seafood, I can't use it.
1. First is to boil the pasta as per the instructions on the box. I add some of the seasoning to the water while it boils. The box may say let the pasta sit in water for about 5 minutes. Once cooked to your liking, drain the pasta but try to leave at least enough pasta water to cover the bottom. I have been known to place a bowl under my strainer while draining pasta. I NEVER rinse pasta. This should help thicken the mac & cheese when it's time to add the sauce. It will also eliminate the need to add milk should someone not be able to consume it. Once I drain the pasta, I will add some olive oil (enough where I can coat the pasta) . When I use Miracle Whip and eggs, I add them here and mix them while the pasta is still hot. Mix well.
2. You can do one of 2 things. You can remove the "mac" and start the "cheese" in the same pot or use a different pot altogether. This is part of the reason I season the water, bringing the water to a boil then back to a simmer. If you're using milk, then you may not want to use the pasta water. I take whatever cheese and flour I am using and place it in the liquid and then mix. It should blend in and have the same consistency. I would not use more than medium heat. This is if you wish to do this on the stove and not bake at all.
3. Here's where it gets fun. Did you notice the optional ingredients I listed? These are the ones I like using the most. If you use canned tomatoes, do NOT use stewed tomatoes. I made that mistake once and won't do it again. I found that the texture of the stewed tomatoes had made the dish too soggy. So that's why I use diced. Bell peppers, chiles, mushrooms, onions or whatever you wish to add can go into the sauce.
a. I will add the canned goods or something like a tomato to the sauce (almost like a queso dip).
b. I use raw onions and bell peppers. Once the sauce is added, they do seem to cook. At the most, I might sweat the vegetables. Peas I will fully cook and add to the pasta but before adding the sauce.
c. Mushrooms can be added towards the end with sauce. If you sweat them, don't do it for long because mushrooms give up their own liquid.
d. In the event that you use garlic (powder or fresh depending on what you have), put that in last.
e. If you add meat (such as poultry), I find it best if the meat has already been cooked (eliminating any chance for e-coli or anything of the like).
f. Chiles can be canned, dried (like ancho) or fresh. You can roast these and the bell peppers should you have the time to do it.
g. I do not always use the flour. In fact, I've experienced better results when I didn't.
4. As it relates to bread crumbs, I only use them when I bake the mac & cheese. What I would do is make sure that the bread crumbs have been properly seasoned (again with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano and whatever other spices I decide upon). I take the sauce and mix in with the pasta. Then I place the pasta in a baking dish (should I want more a lasagna feel) or just use the pot I boiled the pasta in. Once the pasta is in my dish, I cover the top with the seasoned bread crumbs. I will bake it for about 35-40 minutes, of which the last 10 would be uncovered. Let it rest for about 5-10 minutes and enjoy. It tastes even better the next day.
Next time (if time permits), I'll add pictures. This is somewhat new to me but am having fun doing this.