The Best Macaroni and Cheese Ever, in a sense
March 17, 2010 § 6 Comments
Happy St. Patrick’s Day (and St. Urho’s Day yesterday!). I know according to some generally accepted food writing standard I’m supposed to be making use of this holiday conversation starter to share some recipe for colcannon or bangers and mash or Irish soda bread. But, I’m afraid I haven’t made any of those lately. Though I feel an affinity for Irish folks – my Viking ancestors having pillaged and conquered their villages and such (always have to give my Irish friends a hard time on St. Patty’s day) – I’ve never gotten into celebrating the holiday. Ack, wait! Don’t pinch me! Here’s something green. And not to worry, I’ll certainly be raising a pint tonight.
I’ve been musing about growing up lately. I just don’t feel like I make a particularly good grown up (growing old is a different story – I have high hopes of being a totally eccentric, white-haired old spitfire of a woman someday). Growing up has its perks, for sure. But, why are we expected to get so darn serious as we grow up? Life is too important to take seriously, I say! I still secretly want to be a ballerina. I still look for fairies and elves in the trees and flowers. I would rather chase after falling leaves and stomp in puddles than go running and do yoga (though I enjoy both of those too). It keeps things magical.
One of the things that I think is the least fun about growing up is the way in which, the more you get out into the world and do things, the more you discover there’s nearly always going to be someone else who’s better at it than you. Better athletes, better writers, better artists, better scientists, better musicians…Overall, this isn’t a very big deal, but sometimes it just irks me. Because, who doesn’t deep down inside of them want to be the best at something? Yes mom, I know I’m the very best me in the whole wide world. But still. Oh gosh, and please don’t think I’m fishing for compliments now! I’m not (and I’ll be very distressed if I suddenly get a flood of compliments – Minnesotans are easily abashed). It’s really just something I’ve been pondering a bit.
For some reason these thoughts were what came into my mind when I recently made the amusing discovery of a new way to achieve “the best” at something: try to do something else entirely. I’m wondering if this is applicable anywhere else in my life.
You see, I got it into my mind that I wanted to make some pasta with sautéed greens for dinner after I saw a picture of something of that sort on the cover of an old Food and Wine magazine – I unearthed the stack I had accumulated from a year-long gift subscription when I moved a couple of weeks ago, and suddenly I have all sorts of new pictures and recipe titles to be inspired by, woohoo. Except that I also wanted to make pasta with chicken and Alfredo sauce because I had developed food envy of someone else’s dinner when we went out to eat a few days back. Well, garlicky greens would probably taste good in chicken Alfredo, I figured, since the freshness of the greens and the slight bite of the garlic would probably lighten up the Alfredo nicely. So, I sautéed my greens, and chopped my cooked chicken, and made a cream sauce. Then, something about the greens made me think of feta cheese. The idea of salty, briny, crumbles of cheese with the greens sounded wonderful, even though the idea of adding feta to pasta with a cream sauce struck me as maybe a little bit over the top. But, if I lightened up the cream sauce with a titch of chicken broth…
We sat down to eat, and after his first bite Joel exclaimed, “Wow! This is like, the best macaroni and cheese ever!…oh, um, I mean that as a compliment.” And I took it as a compliment. A truly meaningful compliment, considering that Joel is kind of a mac&cheese aficionado. So, somehow I had created the best mac&cheese ever while trying to create chicken and pasta Alfredo with garlicky greens. Doesn’t that just sound like it could inform my life philosophy somehow? It’s like a Zen koan to solve. Then again, I might instead just stop worrying and enjoy the best ever mac&cheese that isn’t mac&cheese at all. After all, what better way to stay in touch with your inner child?!
Creamy Pasta with Chicken, Greens, and Feta (the chicken can easily be omitted and the chicken broth be replaced with vegetable broth to make this vegetarian)
- 1 large bunch of greens (like kale, chard, collards, spinach…)
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 1 cup, or a bit more, chopped, cooked chicken (from leftovers, otherwise just sautee some chicken pieces until they’re cooked through)
- 1 Tbs. butter
- 1 Tbs. flour
- around 1 cup chicken (or veggie) broth
- 1 cup cream
- 1 package of pasta, preferably one that is hearty like spirals, penne, orrechiette, or fettuccini
- crumbled feta cheese
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- a dash of nutmeg
- Wash your greens, remove their stems, and then coarsely chop them. Mince the garlic. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan, add the garlic and sautee for a couple of minutes. Then add the greens, sprinkle with some salt, and cook until wilted, a few minutes. Set aside.
- Next, make a little roux for the cream sauce: melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then stir in the flour to make a paste. Allow to cook for a minute, then whisk in the broth, bit by bit, to keep the sauce from being lumpy. Add cream, turn down the heat and allow to simmer for a while to thicken, 10 or so minutes. Stir in a dash of nutmeg (a little nutmeg is almost always nice in a cream sauce because it cuts through the creaminess to keep it from tasting overly heavy or greasy) and salt and pepper to taste.
- In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water before draining. Then, drain the pasta, and in a large serving bowl, toss together the pasta, greens, cooked chicken pieces, and cream sauce. Add a little splash of the pasta water if necessary to thin the sauce to bind everything together (I didn’t use any of mine, but I always like to have it, just in case). Sprinkle generously with the feta cheese crumbles and serve.
- This could also be served with no feta, or with a different cheese, like grated parmesan. Shrimp or scallops, since they are light meats like chicken, would be good with the creamy pasta. You could also substitute broccoli, sautéed Brussels sprouts, zucchini or bell peppers instead of the greens. You could really play around with any number of combinations of additions to a basic pasta with cream sauce. Oh, yes, I like that idea. Play! We all need more play in our lives.