Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Veggie Laden Mac And Cheese

Middle of February. Ughh. I'm sick of winter, and I'm sick of trying to think of what to cook for dinner, night after night after night. I was driving home from work this afternoon, trying to think of what I could possibly cook - picturing the bare cupboards. Something easy, something comforting. How about homemade macaroni and cheese? That sounded ok, I wondered if I had anything else to go with it.

About forty five minutes later (we're slow, it is really a simple meal), my husband and I had scrounged every fresh thing in our fridge, and a few other things to create a delicious, easy, mid-winter dinner, made mostly with local ingredients. Given that it can be so hard to think of easy mid-week meals to plan, especially this time of year, I thought I'd share it with the masses.

Keep in mind that this meal was assembled from every scrap I had in the fridge. Better to improvise with what you have than go out and buy every ingredient on this list.

You may notice that I am vague on the quantities of flour and milk needed in the cheese sauce. A white (or bechamel) sauce is a basic French sauce used as a base to create many other sauces, in this case we add cheese to make a cheese sauce. White sauce is easier to make properly if you pay attention to how it looks rather than rely on exact quantities. The amount of butter you start with is the main determinant for how much flour and milk you'll need, and therefore how much sauce you'll have.

Also, segmenting an orange takes a few minutes and is a bit OTT. I love the tender, elegant looking wedges that result, but if you want to save time, just peel and separate the orange.

Veggie Laden Mac and Cheese and Winter Side Salad (serves 2-4)


  • 1 handful walnuts

  • 1 orange

  • 5-6 d'Avignon radishes with greens

  • 3-4 handfuls spinach

Salad Dressing

  • 1 tsp. agave nectar or honey

  • 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar

  • soy sauce

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil

  • sesame oil

Toast the walnuts in a pan on medium low heat until darkened and nutty :) smelling, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

Remove the radish tops, separating the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems. Wash the leaves and the spinach in cool water and then dry. Slice the radishes.

Segment the orange as follows: using a sharp knife, cut enough peel from each end to expose a flat circle of flesh about 2 inches in diameter. Set the orange on one end. Starting at the edge of the top circle, cut down to the bottom circle to remove a strip of skin, going just deep enough to completely remove the skin and pith and expose a stripe of flesh. Continue in adjacent stripes until all of the skin and pith is removed. With the orange on it's side, gently cut just inside the outer membrane of one segment to the center of the orange, then cut inside the membrane on the other side of the same segment to release a tender wedge of just orange flesh with membrane, pith and skin removed. Repeat for all segments.

Make the dressing by whisking the agave nectar with the white wine vinegar. Add in a few splashes of soy sauce. Continue whisking while slowly drizzling in the olive oil. To finish, add a few splashes of sesame oil. Be sure to check that you like the sweet to vinegar to oil ratio, adding in more of whatever is needed to suit your taste.

Toss the greens in just enough dressing to coat them lightly. Pour the remaining dressing over the nuts, orange segments and radishes, then place these on top of the greens.

Macaroni and Cheese

  • 3/4 lb. whole wheat rigatone or similar pasta

  • 1 small bunch chard, stems removed and discarded, leaves sliced about 1/2 in. wide

  • 2 Egyptian bunching onions (substitute 3 scallions or spring onions), sliced thinly, both white and green parts

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil

  • 3 Tbs butter

  • flour ~ 1/4 c.

  • whole milk ~ 1-2 c.

  • Cheddar cheese, 3 handfuls grated

  • salt and pepper to taste
Put on a large pot of salted water to boil. Don't start making the sauce until the water has started to boil.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter on medium low heat. Sprinkle a tablespoon of flour into the butter and then beat with a wooden spoon to remove the lumps. Continue adding more flour until the mixture looks like a dry paste - it will actually start to ball up a little.

Now is a good time to start the pasta and the chard. To cook the chard, heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium low heat. Throw in the chard. You can let it cook the entire time you're cooking the pasta, just toss it in the pan periodically. It will get a little crispy and chewy.

Back to the sauce - add one small ladle full of milk and mix with the spoon until absorbed. Start by slowly moving the mixture around with the spoon, increasing speed as the milk starts to absorb. Continue adding the milk, one ladle at a time, stirring (almost beating, your arm will be tired) until the sauce is runny, about the consistency of melted chocolate. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook the sauce gently on medium low heat for a few minutes to remove the floury taste.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.

Remove the chard from the heat and stir in the onions, just to wilt them a bit. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

Stir the pasta and sauce together in a bowl, holding a bit of one or the other back if it seems that the ratio isn't right (you can't remove excess pasta or sauce once you mix them together, but you can add them in if you don't have enough). Add a little of the cooking water to loosen up the mixture if it seems too thick. Finish by stirring in the chard and onions, check the seasoning and serve!

1 Responses (Leave a Comment):

Nicole Marie said...

That is an excellent salad dressing, and I don't even like salad dressing!