4.29.2009

Just do it

The more you cook, the more many of your nagging culinary questions--Why the hell do I have to sear/brown this, when it makes my stove messy, wastes my time, makes me burn myself? for example--answer themselves. 

And then you forget the answer, and try to make certain beef, chicken, pork etc. dishes--like my disastrous pork tenderloin with olives and oranges--without first searing the meat. 

The reason for quickly searing meat before subjecting it to other cooking methods like braising or roasting is not, as many believe, to "seal in the juices," according to page 161 of Harold McGee's brilliant book "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen," but simply to enhance flavor. In fact, brown meat too much, you're just drying it out. The point is to create a tasty and pretty "crust" that  will also add depth to flavors of braised dishes and stews. 

But do you need to know why, as long as it works? Probably not. Are you a professional chef? Not if you're reading this, and neither am I. Besides: You already have too much information in your head. So if you'd like to be a decent cook without going to culinary school why not just do as you're told by the many chefs and cooks who have come before you and subsequently sold you their cookbooks. 

And once you do, remember what you've done/read. 

Because culinary history exists for the same reason that regular history (especially that of the Bush Administration) exists: so that we can learn from our extremely stupid mistakes rather than repeating them over and over again and thereby living like Prometheus, whose liver was eaten by that eagle or vulture or whatever kind of bird it was, then grown back each night, to be eaten again the very next day. Over and over and over.

Try to give the lessons of  history the slip, and you end up running the country into the ground, or, in our smaller circumstances here, wasting expensive food. Believe it or not, I actually got the hot idea not that long ago (meaning, way after I'd been cooking for decades) that I would not cream the butter and sugar in a cake recipe. What folly. What a loser! Just like Bush.

Anyway, rather than dragging you along as I skip down the lane of my hubristic culinary mistakes, I'm  showing you this picture of the aforementioned pork dish. 




I'm not going to try to explain in words what I thought I was doing here, except to say that the cooking method and the meat were not a good match. I really like pork tenderloin, and making a terrific meal out of this cheap cut is pretty simple. My next post will be a simple supper, invented by the man who lives here with me, of pork medallions with red curry paste, in fact.

Anyway, I urge you to trot this picture out whenever you need a grotesque reminder of why we sear. Or print it out and put it in your Halloween recipe file, because,  as you can see,  it looks like a human arm. In this case a human arm dotted with olives and oranges. You want it to look like a browned human arm. 

In conclusion, I offer this note on how to sear: add a little olive or canola to a large heavy pot or skillet, turn heat up to medium high; when the oil shimmers, drop in a bit of meat. It should sizzle. If it doesn't, wait a few minutes, but don't let the oil smoke.  Place the meat in the skillet, and let it brown until the skillet releases it without sticking, then turn. For smaller pieces of meat, there should be plenty of room between each portion. If you have a lot, cook it in batches with good space between pieces, otherwise the ambient moisture begins a braise before you are finished, which you don't want, until you're ready to braise, if that is what your plan is. You can let it cook a little longer, too, but don't burn it.  The idea is to get a nice color on every inch, before you really cook it. I like a deep golden brown. Thank you.

4.26.2009

Bird in a Nest, Edible Version



One thing I wish more people knew, especially people who have lived their lives on fast/takeout/restaurant food: cooking doesn't always have to mean making a giant involved recipe. Many people are unaware of the incredible amount of culinary satisfaction that can come with very little effort. Putting out freshly boiled corn, sliced tomatoes, and cucumbers in oil and vinegar is cooking. I consider a really good ham sandwich cooking (put pickles on it!).

Read a few cookbooks that appeal to you, make a few of the simplest dishes, and the whole process begins to grow on you. 

Or, that's the way it happened with me. Granted, I loved being in the kitchen when I was a kid, and started cooking for other people when I was in college. But I happen to know that even if you grow up in a family where cooking is not the absolute norm, or where no one cooks at all, that can change very quickly. 

For instance: doesn't this Bird in a Nest look delicious to you? It does to me, and I can say that without sounding like a braggart because I did not make it. I taught it to a close personal friend of mine, who is 9, and now she makes it herself, much better than I make it. Just look at that browned crust, the perfect amount of pepper. Aaahhh: Saturday morning breakfast. Add half a grapefruit, a smoothie: you're cooking with gas until lunchtime rolls around. This version looks especially good, I imagine, because this friend puts about a half a stick of butter in the pan before starting, but she can do that because she is slender as a piano leg--a graceful, lovely butterhound. She also took the picture. 

She loves food, and likes to help me cook about half the time. But her favorite dish is fried chicken fingers and ketchup, and you should never expect her to take it lying down if you try to serve "cooked oranges," as part of a pork tenderloin dish. I'm just trying to make sure you know that she is not one of those junior food snobs. Because I believe that if you took all the cuteness out of the world, what you'd have left over is a runty, mean little former boss of mine, and children who say things  like "chevre," "aged balsamic vinegar" and "sous vide." 

It's not, of course, a recipe at all. It's just our breakfast. You need a slice of your favorite bread (we like rye), a fresh organic egg, some butter, sea salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. Using a small biscuit cutter or small glass, cut a hole in the bread, saving the bread from the hole as the little round hat. 
  2. Melt butter in a medium nonstick skillet, over medium high heat. Place the bread and the bread hat in the pan and let each get toasty brown on one side, then the other, moving them around in the pan so that each side gets buttery. Turn down the heat to medium low. 
  3.  Crack the egg into a coffee cup, being careful not to break the yolk. Once the pan has cooled down a bit, gently pour the egg into the hole. You want it to cook slowly, so it doesn't get that horrible leathery coating. When the egg white has become firm and halfway opaque,  salt and pepper it, then flip it. For over-easy, cook for barely a minute more. You'll have to use a spatula to get it out of the pan; once you do, flip it over on the plate and serve, topped with the hat, which you can use to dip into the yellow. Practice makes perfect. 

4.18.2009

The Purloined Lentil



I have knowingly and openly stolen two things in my life: a Peppermint Pattie and about one-quarter of the flowering branches from a medium-size forsythia tree growing in a yard that was not mine. In both cases, I was punished to the fullest extent of civilized parental law, using the shame method: I was forced to return both items, then endure otherwise moot lectures by the affronted drugstore owner and the horrified gardener. 

In my defense, during my criminal period I clearly recognized what had real value in the world. 

Both crimes were of course committed back when my brain was still pliable (i.e., before age 10). So rather than blow the punishments off and continue to take what I wanted, I turned into one of those people who goes out of her way to make it very clear that I am not stealing: I generally return things that accidentally end up in my grocery bag, I don't "taste" cherries at the produce stand, I give other people credit even if I think I am the one who really deserves it; if, for instance, I still happen to have a  book loaned to me by a person who has moved out of town, I flinch when I hear a police siren. It can be hellish, being so virtuous. 

Of course, each person's idea of what qualifies as theft is probably flexible. 

When it comes to reworking recipes, I tend to go so overboard in giving credit that the creator of the original probably ends up resenting the byline--especially if my version has a certain graceless rusticity not found in its model. But I like to think that I am not making recipes better or worse; I am tailoring them to my own tastes. 

Sadly, we live in a world full of people are not as naturally guilty as I am. They'll lay claim to a dish for flimsy reasons, especially on the internet, where some terrific sites (such as simplyrecipes) are often attacked by evil recipe pirates. In Chicago, one chef, Homaro Cantu, has taken the step of patenting

Of course, if everyone were like me, recipes that had been handed down a million times would be so title-cumbersome--like the future great-grandchildren of couples who give their offspring hyphenate surnames--that people would give up cooking altogether. We don't want that. 

So when is calling a not entirely original formula your own no longer stealing? If the person who gave you the recipe dies? If you add 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg instead of the 1/4 teaspoon suggested in the original? If you use salmon instead of mahi mahi? If you roast rather than saute?

And how do we punish those who steal recipes?

I don't know. But I do know this: however neurotic I am,  I'm probably not the only home cook or recipe collector (or recipe inventor) who worries about this sort of thing. [This just in: a nice piece on the topic by the truly wonderful F.F.W. (Famous Food Writer) David Lebovitz, sent to me by another blogger I'm keen on.]

This dish I'm about to share (aside from borscht, it is the best use for beets I can imagine) falls into a gray zone. I know I didn't dream it up myself, but I also do not have a recipe record. I am pretty sure it came from an article in Metropolitan Home, back in about 1992, accompanying the story of a cute young couple so poor that they threw together their wedding with the help of friends. One friend/guest made salad very similar to this one. It is a surprisingly delicious, elegant dish that needs nothing from the dairy department; don't even be tempted to add goat or feta cheese. I love the way it all takes on the ruby stain of the beets, too. 

If anyone can give me the exact origins of the recipe, I'm happy to cite. Until then, it is:

Emily's Purloined Beet and Lentil Salad
Serves 6-8

6 medium beets, unpeeled, scrubbed, trimmed
1 medium onion (red or yellow), quartered lengthwise, sliced into 1/3 inch slices 
20 basil leaves, torn
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
4-5 cups chicken stock
Simple Mustard Vinaigrette (below)

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Place whole beets into  a 13x9x2-inch baking dish; strew with onion slices, basil leaves, crushed garlic. Drizzle with olive oil; salt, pepper. Add water to pan.
  2. Cover pan tightly with foil, bake without uncovering, for 1 hour and 15 minutes. 
  3. While beets are roasting, place lentils in another 13x9x2-inch pan with 4 cups of the stock, tightly covered with foil. After the beets have cooked for 45 minutes, place lentils in oven. Check lentils after 30 minutes. If stock has been absorbed and lentils are tender, remove with beets. Otherwise, continue to cook another 15 minutes or so, adding more broth if necessary to prevent lentils from burning.
  4. Meanwhile, make Simple Mustard Vinaigrette.
  5. Allow beets and lentils to cool, uncovered. (Drain any excess broth from lentils if necessary) Remove beets from pan, reserving remaining beet-juice-onion-basil mixture. Peel, cut into 1-inch chunks; combine with lentils and juice-onion-basil mixture in a large bowl. Toss with about half jar of Simple mustard Vinaigrette, more or less to taste. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature. 

Simple mustard vinaigrette, again

In a jar, stir together 8 tablespoons olive oil,  1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, freshly ground black pepper. Place the lid on the jar, and shake vigorously, until emulsified.

4.16.2009

Promises, Promises

After recently mentioning a dish that makes a good supper for company, and promising to post it, I did not. So here it is, my version of Pierre Franey's Crevettes a la Mode Grecque avec Rigatoni, or Shrimp Greek-style with Rigatoni, from the wonderful "60 Minute Gourmet." 

I say "my version," because I have a lot less restraint and am obviously therefore a much less masterful cook than Franey was. I love garlic too much, and am just now beginning to realize that you can indeed use too much of it, as well as too much tomato, etc. 

But I learned that lesson, halfheartedly, by cooking with Marcella Hazan's cookbooks, in which her most super-simple recipes go something like this: "Slice a medium zucchini into 1 inch slices; saute in 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy pan, with one tomato, skinned but otherwise intact. When the tomato has softened but still maintains its spherical integrity, add one clove of sliced garlic;  stir for one minute, discard the tomato and zucchini. Serve the garlic at room temperature." And it is the most delicious thing ever.  

Anyway, this is a dish that requires buying some good feta for. Don't even try to use prepackaged grocery-store stuff; if you're going to spend the money on the shrimp, buy the good feta. 

Shrimp with Too Much Garlic and Lots of Tomato, on Rigatoni
Serves 4

5 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic (or 3)
4 cups chopped tomato
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried crumbled oregano (if you have fresh, use it, but this turns out well using dried)
1 1/2 pounds medium-size shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails intact  
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 lb rigatoni
1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled

  1. Preheat oven to 400. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, cook briefly, stirring, until it begins to scent the air like the perfume of the gods. Add tomatoes; cook for 3-5 minutes. Add wine, salt, pepper, basil, oregano. 
  2.  Continue to cook over medium-low heat for ten minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper. Heat remaining oil in a large heavy skillet, over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; cook for about 30 seconds on each side, moving them around in the pan, until they just turn red. 
  4. Spoon shrimp and their pan juices into a small baking dish; sprinkle with crumbled feta, spoon tomato mixture on top. Bake for 15 minutes, or until piping hot. 
  5. Cook rigatoni (careful not to overcook); serve in shallow bowls, with shrimp-tomato-feta sauce spooned on top. 

I also mentioned that I recently served this dish with my own Pale Green Salad. This is just a salad that consists of pale green things: one medium large cucumber, peeled, seeded, sliced into half moons; one or two avocados (peeled of course), in cubes; 2-3 large celery stalks, in thick slices cut on the diagonal; butter lettuce; and baby romaine, cut into shreds crosswise. I serve this with a simple mustard vinaigrette and toss together salad and dressing before serving, so that the avocado mixes with the dressing and makes it avocadolicious.  

Simple mustard vinaigrette

In a jar, stir together 8 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, freshly ground black pepper.  Place the lid on the jar, and shake vigorously, until emulsified. 

4.15.2009

A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Depression



I walked a mile to school in the snow when I was a kid growing up in Virginia. I really did. But it wasn't because we were poor; it was just what I did. I liked walking to and from school. Sometimes it happened to be snowing.

It was pastoral and pleasant in my hometown, which had a population of 6,000 and is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I did not enjoy seeing the exact same people all the time. And, one other bad thing, which I didn't even recognize as a disenfranchisement: there were few restaurants. People cooked when I was a kid! Get off my yard. 

In fact, when I was very young the only restaurants were at the two local hotels (for all the people wishing to vacation in a rural factory town), in addition to a place called the Red Barn (of course), and not one but three drive-in restaurants, where a woman in stretch pants would come out to your car to get your order after she'd finished smoking a cigarette. Two of the drive-ins are still there; you can order corn dogs, cheeseburgers that have been flattened in a press and wrapped in wax paper, and Boston shakes (giant milkshake with a sundae on top) or lime flips (a lime sherbert milkshake). I wish I had one of those cheeseburgers right now. The Red Barn and one of hotel restaurants had Sunday buffets with all the thousand island dressing you could pile on your iceberg salad and green beans and biscuits, etcetera. I don't think I need to say anything else about that.

Anyway, whatever deprivations may have marred my childhood growing up in the South, none were nearly as as bad as those that marred my mother's childhood in the South, especially when it came to food. She grew up during the latter portion of the Great Depression. And like a lot of mothers from her era (and a couple of mothers I know today, who have it pretty easy) she reminded me and my brothers and sisters about her hardships more often than was probably absolutely necessary.

Unfortunately, there's only so much sympathy a child of perfectly comfortable means can muster for anyone, their own mother even, if she serves Depression-era food to remind the child of the suffering that goes into giving life. 

Which in my case was cabbage--boiled cabbage and potatoes.

Rather than making me want to send her a thank-you note for all she'd endured on my behalf, this malodorous dish made me surly and resentful, and seemed, quite frankly, spiteful. What the hell had I done? I didn't ask to be born! ("It's a good thing--we would have said no," my father responded.) I can assure you, it did not make me appreciate my life of leisure. Otherwise, we lived in a household full of delicious food, which is a feat when you're cooking for five kids.

Needless to say, I grew up dreading two things: being poor and eating cabbage.

But it turns out that while a lot of childhood wounds can be difficult to heal, cabbageaphobia is not one of them, at least not for me.

I began eating smothered cabbage as comfort food, in fact. I discovered that rather than boiling it (why would anyone?) I could smother it (just like feelings, but with better results!).

For many years, I would chop up a couple of slices of bacon together with 4-5 cloves of garlic and some rosemary, sautee that in a large heavy pot until the garlic was golden and the bacon had browned, then throw in a whole head of sliced cabbage, salt, pepper and toss to coat. I'd turn the heat down low, put a lid on it, and let it cook until very tender, about 45 minutes, adding a half a cup of dry white wine at some point early in the process. Usually, I made mashed potatoes and turnips, and ate the cabbage on top. Very delicious.

But, recently, as we slid into a recession of our own, I discovered Jamie Oliver's red cabbage recipe. It's much, much prettier than my smothered green cabbage (which ends up a kind of drab military gray), because it retains its gorgeous garnet color, and the apple turns bright red, too. It's terrific with mashed potatoes, but I also like to serve it with chicken sausage. Most recently we ate it with a bacon wrapped turkey breast  (the cabbage is not bacony; so it's not like throwing a bacon festival), marinated in adobo sauce. This was so good (and cheap; it cost about $7) that I am going to give you that recipe, too, A.S.A.P.

Make this dish right now, though, and you will feel like happy days are here again.

Jamie Oliver's Red Cabbage with Bacon, Apple, and Balsamic
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices of thick bacon, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, "bashed" (as J.O. puts it)
1 medium onion, peeled, halved, sliced into 1/3 inch slices
2 medium apples (I used Macintosh, but any good tart eating apple works), peeled, cored, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 red cabbage, cored, chopped into irregular chunks (in other words, don't just slice or shred)
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup good balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, or more to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large heavy pot. Add the bacon and fennel seeds; cook until golden. Add onion and cook, with the lid on, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add apple, cabbage chunks, salt and pepper, vinegar. Toss to coat well.
  2. Cover, cook on low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Stir in butter, taste for salt and pepper; sprinkle with parsley.

4.14.2009

4.11.2009

Red Cabbage: Recession Vegetable or Beauty Queen?




You can decide after I post a recipe for a dish that tastes almost as good as this cabbage is pretty. And a super-cheap bacon-wrapped turkey breast that is the best thing I've cooked in weeks.

4.06.2009

Entertaining made unfreaky (longwinded version)

There's been a lot of cooking around here, lately. Hoo-boy. Lots of cooking.

Most of it has been for my peeps (actually a rooster and a little chick), and I hope it has saved us a lot of money--something cooking can do for anyone, as long as in practice "cooking" means making things from contemporary scratch (as opposed to Little House on the Prairie scratch; you don't have to make your own cheese). And not wasting the food you buy helps, of course.

You are not cooking per se if you simply purchase convenience products to eat at home (the premade Philly Cream Cheese cheesecake filling, in a giant tub, springs to mind; so do canned soups; so does microwaveable rice).  

Even buying bags of precut broccoli, which I have done, is a pretty senseless act, not just because it takes two seconds to saw the stem off of a head of broccoli, but because if you peel the stems, slice them into rounds, and sautee them in olive oil (or eat them raw in salad), you will have a special added treat that will surprise you. Two broccoli treats for the much more expensive price of one. 

More and more, lately, I'd rather cook than go to a restaurant. Unless I get freaked out. 

Some things that might freak me out, in order of intensity

1. The possibility of giving anyone food poisoning (which has never happened, but probably only because I refuse to stuff a turkey) or getting it. No one touches my raw chicken after patting the dog. I'm like that Saturday Night Live character, the Obsessive Compulsive Chef, so there's a certain amount of Silkwood worthy hand washing that takes place in my kitchen. 

1. The people I am cooking for are starving, but do not cook themselves. This is not because I want them to help me cook, necessarily, but because they sometimes do not understand that that simple dish they love and request takes more time than, say, microwaving a Hot Pocket. I don't have a food processor, I just bought a box grater, and I tend to make stewy dishes that take a lot of chopping, etc. But I also have a hard time saying no to people I adore. So I rush to make the requested dish, then act as if someone asked me to carry the world on my shoulders. "Here's your 'simple' dish, that took me an hour and a half to make; I hope you don't get indigestion because I would never want you to feel as bad as I do right now, which is to say I can barely walk I'm so exhausted."

3. Company is coming. This is probably a side effect of the existence of Martha Stewart, whom, God help, me I love; I even bought a poncho like the one she wore on her way out of prison. Not to mention all the shelter magazines I read. The way some women obsess over body image and clothing, I worry about not having six matching place mats, which I've never owned. 

Until now! I don't own just six, I own 8. It was an accident, because a couple got stuck together, (but we did pay for them). So, we own 8 matching place mats. We also have these three adorable succulent plants, which I bought for 4 dollars apiece, and which make a very nice centerpiece. 


I'm on top of the world. Of course, there is no point to place mats and cheap succulents if you don't invite your friends over.   

All of which is a drawn-out  prelude to announcing that I'm going to start sharing the food I make with more people. Now is a just a good time to share.  

I object to the term "entertaining" in this context. If I feed people good food, should I also be required to amuse them, like some circus plate-spinner? Must I engage in crafting? I own a book with the words "entertaining" and "simple" in the title, for instance, and it suggests that I "sandwich two [millinery] flowers together at the top of [a drink] stirrer with a drop of hot glue." Obviously, I'm not going to do that. And it would make me a little uncomfortable if I arrived at your house and you had. Yet, as I have said, I love Martha Stewart.

Besides, my friends are so wonderful. They've travelled to places I have not, they bring cherry pies, they use their brains in ways that are different from the way I use mine (which is mostly for worrying), know things I don't, tell hilarious/ironic/sweet/amazing stories. They are lovely.

Some bring their adorable 3 1/2 year old daughter with them, for a swim date with the resident chicklet. For them, I made a steak salad (for the adults), from one of my favorite old cookbooks, Cucina Fresca; for the kids, a four cheese mac and cheese, from Sheila Lukin's latest cookbook, Ten. With bread, and an apple crisp for dessert, it seemed just right.



Others come bearing beautiful scented soap, heart shaped candies, Good & Plenty (my favorite candy). But of course, they don't have to bring anything. For them I made a good party dish, Pierre Franey's Crevettes a la Mode Grecque avec Rigatoni, a.k.a. Greek-style shrimp over rigatoni. It is incredibly easy and makes great leftovers. That, my own Pale Green Salad, and for dessert, homemade hot fudge on vanilla ice cream with toasted almonds and whipped cream (from a spray can), about which nothing bad can be said. I'll give you those recipes later. 

But only because this has gone on way too long.

Insalata Bistecca, from Cucina Fresca, by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman
Serves 4-6

2 pounds sirloin steak
1 pound white mushrooms (white are really the correct ones to use; don't be tempted to get fancy).
1 small bunch scallions, trimmed
3 good ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded (I peel them by poking a fork in them and holding them over a gas flame until the skin pops; you don't want to cook them, though)
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley, or more. I like a lot.

DRESSING:
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (I used 4; I love vinegar)
1 tablespoons Dijon mustard (I used 2-3; I love mustard)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
Coarse Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Mixed salad greens. 

  1.  Place steak in a preheated broiler, about 4 inches from flame. Cook about 3 minutes per side, for medium rare. Remove to a plate to cool. (Obviously, this would be even more fantastic on an outdoor grill, so do that if you have a yard.)
  2. While steak cools (do not refrigerate), clean mushrooms with a damp cloth; trim stem ends and slice mushrooms thinly. Cut scallions into paper thin rings; discard green tops. Dice tomatoes. 
  3. Cut steak against the grain into 1/4 inch slices. combine with mushrooms, scallions tomatoes, parsley in a large bowl. 
  4. Prepare dressing: combine all ingredients in a jar, and shake until emulsified. I like a bit more vinegar, usually. Adjust to your own taste. 
  5. Pour dressing over steak mixture and toss gently. Serve over a big bowl of torn mixed lettuces, and let guests serve themselves. How much lettuce is up to you. Cucina Fresca suggests serving it on a few leaves. (I like it more salad-y, as Pee Wee Herman says. "Mmmmm: Salad-y!") You can always serve more dressing at the table, but it's not necessary. 

Andrew Engle's Mac and Cheese, from Ten, by Sheila Lukins
Serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound penne (or elbow macaroni)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose four
4 cups milk, warmed (Lukins says use whole; I use lowfat)
1 1/2 cups grated Gruyere
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar
1 1/2 cups grated mozarrella
2-3 dashes Tabasco (I use a lot more than this)
Sweet paprika, to taste. 

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil, add olive oil, penne; stir. Cook until al dente (just tender), 12 minutes. Drain, return penne to pot, cover and set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees; butter a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. 
  3. Prepare sauce. Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. Sprinkle in flour, whisking constantly. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes (don't let it brown). While whisking, slowly add warm milk. Continue to whick until the mixture is thickened and lump free. Remove from heat. 
  4. Stir three cheeses together in a mixing bowl. Set aside 3/4 cup of the mixture for topping the casserole. Slowly mix in the remaining cheese, in small handfuls, stirring until each has melted completely and sauce is smooth. Stir in Tabasco, pepper, salt, paprika. Fold in the cooked penne, coating well. 
  5. Trasfer mixture to the prepared baking dish, sprinkle with reserved cheese, bake until the top is golden and crusty, about 35 minutes. Serve promptly.