Having considered dozens of macaroni and cheese recipes since starting this blog, I now realize that most of them fall into one of two categories: the cheesy white sauce based recipes like Martha’s, or the recipes like Nancy’s where you add the cheese and milk separately. In both cases you are working with cooked macaroni.
So I was especially intrigued by this New York Times recipe, which does not call for cooking the noodles before incorporating the cheesiness. Even stranger, the cheesiness relies heavily on a profoundly love-it-or-hate-it ingredient, cottage cheese.
That ought to be two strikes against it, but this recipe produced some of the tastiest, most satisfying macaroni and cheese I have enjoyed in quite a while.
Other than the cottage cheese, the ingredients are nothing special. In fact, this recipe uses Cheddar and only Cheddar, though a luxurious quantity of it: yeah, one pound of cheese for half a pound of noodles sounds about right! Since this recipe was originally published in the New York Times, I used Trader Joe’s X-tra X-tra Sharp New York Cheddar as well as their small curd, full-fat cottage cheese which is a big favorite ’round these parts for its creaminess as well as its slight saltiness. This morning the leftover cottage cheese, along with a big handful of frozen blueberries and a squeeze of lime juice, met its maker in the form of a delightfully offbeat smoothie – but that is the subject of another blog (or should be?).
This mac was pretty easy to put together – in fact, there’s no actual “cooking” other than putting the baking dish into the oven and stirring the mixture once, halfway through the cooking time. (Although the instructions do not say so, I played it safe and placed the full baking dish on a rimmed cookie sheet in case it bubbled over.) The hardest step was waiting fifteen minutes for the mac to set up after coming out of the oven, looking all suntanned and alluring.
A blender is required to zap the cottage cheese together with some milk and the spices. I’m not sure I’d be as happy about the consistency of the finished product if one were to omit this step.
It looks like an impossibly soupy mess when you put it into the oven, but those raw elbows do indeed soak up the milky cottage cheese, and the shredded Cheddar seems almost drawn into the very pores of the pasta as a result.
Flavorwise, the Cheddar clearly is the star of the show. You wouldn’t know about the cottage cheese unless you prepared the recipe yourself. (Wink!) Neither the dry mustard, cayenne nor nutmeg particularly stood out but they all provide a subtlety of flavor that I enjoyed, and the salt level is perfect.
The only thing I’d do differently next time is to skip dotting the half-baked casserole with the tablespoon of butter at stirring time. What?! Omit butter?? I know! But I don’t think this mac and cheese benefits from such unctuous surface embellishment. The richness is already built in, and the reheated leftovers were quite oily. Of course, I scarfed them down anyway because this macaroni and cheese is pretty darn tasty.
New York Times Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cottage cheese (not lowfat)
2 cups milk (not skim)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sharp or extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
½ pound elbow pasta, uncooked
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Use 1 tablespoon butter to butter a 9-inch square baking pan.
2. In a blender, purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper together.
3. Reserve ¼ cup grated cheese for topping.
4. In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.
5. Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter (if desired). Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.