Thursday, December 31, 2009

Moment of Truth: What about low-carb pasta?

By Suzy Gruyere

Following our recent raves for two cream cheese-based macs, I started believing that cream cheese was The Answer. Any macaroni and cheese containing a decent amount of cream cheese would turn out creamy and, well, cheesy. But to every rule there is an exception, and I found it.

I’m not sure how Dreamfields low-carb pasta found its way into my kitchen, but I do know it languished there for a long time while I reveled in the mac and cheese decadence required of me, as a professional macaroni and cheese journalist. Finally one day, perhaps feeling a little logy, I pulled the Dreamfields box from its shelf and decided It Was Time. I found a low-carb mac recipe online, and it involved a whole brick of cream cheese so how could it be bad? Cream cheese = silver bullet, even where fake noodles are concerned, right?

Um, sort of right.

This recipe employs not only an eight ounce brick of cream cheese, but a whole pound of Cheddar AND a whole pound of Mozzarella. Now, that’s cheesy!! Two and a half pounds of cheese to be married with less than a pound of elbows, as the Dreamfields box contains only 13.25 ounces of fake pasta! Wow. PLUS eggs! Plus butter! Plus heavy cream! And I thought full-carb mac was decadent. Have the paramedics on speed dial before you attempt this one, folks.

I should stop referring to Dreamfields as “fake” pasta because, according to their website, the pasta is made with wheat semolina just like standard pasta. In fact, the gross carb count is comparable to standard pasta. The low-carb claims (and they do seem to be legit, according to happy customers who test their blood glucose after eating it) are due to the fact that they encase the carbohydrates inside a protective matrix of gums, pectin and other stabilizers so that the protected carbs pass through your body similar to the soluble fiber found in oats.
Okay, so, fewer carbs to weigh me down and extra fiber to clean me out?! This sounds too good to be true. It must taste like crap.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t taste like crap. It tastes fine, and I like it much better than rice pastas and other Franken-noodles that have been engineered for better nutrition. In fact, if I hadn’t opened the box myself, I don’t think I’d have noticed anything “healthy” going on in the finished dish. Dreamfields gets two increasingly slender thumbs up from this tester.

The only caveat is that overcooking this pasta will break down the protective matrix, releasing the carbs to do their usual thing. So you must be diligent about cooking it per the box directions (I’ve thrown out the box but I think it said to cook for only five or six minutes, as opposed to 9-10 for regular elbows). Also, reheating leftovers will unlock some carbs you don’t want, so only cook what you can eat in a sitting.

The following recipe says it serves eight, but I dished up one-eighth of the pan and could not finish anywhere near that much. The vast quantity of unadulterated cheese makes this stuff super-dense, and all that chewing really cues your stomach to the fact that You Have Eaten and better stop now.

Oh yeah, all that cheese… The sheer volume of cheese is exacerbated by the fact that this mac is assembled in an unusual way. You blend the cream cheese, butter and a small amount of heavy cream into a thick sauce that gets mixed with the al dente noodles, and then you layer the saucy elbows with handfuls of grated cheese – a pound of mozzarella as your middle layer, and then a pound of Cheddar on top. A pound of Cheddar on top!! It’s crazy, I tells ya. All that cheese creates pockets of stretchy, cheesy gooeyness that was revelatory (as well as inflammatory) when piping hot. As it cooled, the melted cheese formed a browned crust not only on the top of the dish, but also all along the sides of the casserole (be sure to butter your baking dish well).

I have to admit that this crusty cheese was the best part of this mac. The mac itself was not saucy at all, disproving once and for all the Cream Cheese Hypothesis of Guaranteed Mac Deliciousness. But ohhh, that burned crust! Similar to a Parmesan frico, the outer crust of this loaf o’ mac was salty and chewy and a little bit crunchy, and over the course of several days I ate it all while sending quite a bit of mac innards down the Insinkerator.

So, wait: Did I like the Dreamfields pasta or not? I did, I really did. But I wouldn’t waste it in this recipe. Maybe if you aren’t low-carbing, you can play around with the proportions and come up with something creamier and gentler. This low-carb mac and cheese provides too much of a workout for my jaw to be truly comforting.


3 eggs
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 lb grated sharp Cheddar
1 lb grated Mozzarella
1 box Dreamfields low-carb elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 2 quart baking dish.
Cook Dreamfields pasta as directed on box, drain and set aside to cool slightly.

In a blender, combine eggs, cream cheese, butter and heavy cream until smooth. Fold this mixture into the cooked macaroni.

Place half of the macaroni mixture in baking dish. Top with Mozzarella. Add remaining macaroni mixture and top with Cheddar.

Bake for 1 hour.

Total Net Carbohydrates = 66.72
Digestible Carbs in 1/8 Serving = 8.34

Makes 8 servings


Rachel J said...

I almost spit my coffee out when I read, "Franken Noodles". Normally I agree I have yet to eat a low-carb or gluten free pasta that I enjoying noshing. However, 2+ lbs of cheese can prolly cover any kind of ill taste or texture.

Gillian said...

2lbs of cheese? TWO POUNDS OF CHEESE? Forget having the paramedics on speed-dial, you should have invited them over for coffee while they waited for you to keel over :)

Sounds so delish though...especially the crunchy/salty/cheesy top-----yum.

Christin said...

Arizona's a far way from Michigan, but if you ever find yourself in the Detroit area there's a restaurant called The Clarkston Union (in Clarkston, MI) which is famous for it's mac and cheese. Their description is "Canadian sharp cheddar & mild pinconning layered with penne rigate & a crunchy crust." The sauce has another sweet surprise in it. Very unique and amazing! I have a feeling you'd like it. Too bad I can't find a way to get it to you.