Tag Archives: pasta

Awesome Mac and Cheese

Macaroni Crust

Awhile back, I made an excellent platter of mac and cheese, using the methods that Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot outline in their book Ideas in Food. Basically, the “methods” boil down to two very simple things: using evaporated milk instead of a roux for the base of the cheese sauce, and soaking the dried elbows for an hour before cooking them. Variations abound (you could incorporate mushrooms—or, better, lardons or bacon—into the sauce or bread crumb crust), but the base is simple enough that you can pull it off in half an hour, if you have presoaked the pasta. So. There is no excuse for not fattening up for winter.

The can of milk imparts a carmelized richness to the dish with no added effort, and soaking the macaroni for an hour does something to the pasta that makes it that much more toothsome: al dente, sure, but also pleasantly pliant under teeth. And both are extremely easy to incorporate into mac-and-cheese recipes.

But swapping out the milk for the roux makes me wonder what else can be put together in this fashion. I used to make a lot of creamed tuna by combining a roux with garlic, onion, and the contents of a Chicken of the Sea can; maybe a smaller can of condensed milk would work there too. Or, maybe potato gratin could be that much easier.


Almost Carbonara Sauce

A plate of almost carbonara sauce pasta

We’ve been thinking a lot about carbonara sauce. Basically, because it seems to us one of the sharpest ways to draw out the flavor of a pasta itself, without having to feel like you’re cheating yourself by using only oil and garlic. And, because it’s fairly rare to get a carbonara sauce done in the proper fashion: the egg white coddled by the hot pasta, which has just been drained and mixed with sautéed salty flavor goodness (usually bacon or pancetta, but we have done exquisite vegetarian versions using shiitake mushrooms, even lacinato kale), garlic, and cheese; the raw egg yolk placed delicately atop each bowl of this steaming mess for all the individual diners to break and mix in themselves.

Carbonara done right’s like heaven. Unfortunately, if you or someone near and dear to you isn’t making it, odds are that you gotten some cream sauce approximation that, well, compares to right and proper carbonara in the way that sad, thin, nonfat milk compares to unpasteurized, cream on, cow juice. Which is to say, like water to beer.

Or, something to that effect.

While making carbonara at home is fairly easy, if you’re not squeamish and know how to time it right, it takes practice and scares most people away (“How do I know that I’m not going to get sick from all that raw egg?”). And, you might be squeamish, your timing might suck, and you might have similar questions. But, all those things aside, you might have some leftover pasta that you cooked the other day, and you need to make something with it.

We’re here to help. Well, actually, we’re here to relay the help that we picked up in a book called The Improvisational Chef, which had a recipe for a “deconstructed carbonara.” The title is bit of pretentious, overly educated, former lit student pantomiming, but the technique itself is pure Shinola: a quick and easy way to whip up a “sauce” for pasta, leftover or otherwise.

Basically, you make carbonara without separating the egg white from the yolk. Which means, you cook a sunnyside up, or otherwise runny-yolked, egg, and place it atop a bowl of hot pasta, mixed with whatever salty, fatty, flavor-packed ingredients you want. Since we did this in a rush with what was there, this is was what we used: broccoli, garlic, peppers, and an ample amount of romano cheese.

One rule, and one rule only for this almost carbonara: do not break the yolk in the skillet. You kill an angel (and your satisfaction) every time you do that.

Serve with bad television and black IPAs.