Friday, January 8, 2010

Saved By the Bell-Shaped Pasta

I just love this pasta glossary, recently featured on the Kitchn. It reminded me that not all pastas are created equal. Sometimes it really does matter what shape of pasta you use.

Pasta is often my go-to genre when there are many hungry bellies to feed and when I hope to satisfy vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. It also works well for both children and adults. Recently I've been saved by two particular shapes of pasta. On Christmas Day I was saved by the bell-shaped pasta Campanelle, which I made with Mark Bittman's Chestnut Cream. The sauce was super simple, could be made in advance, and was hearty enough to satisfy any appetite. As a nice plus, it could also be easily adapted to a vegan diet by substituting a non-dairy milk. The Campanelle shape held the sauce well and prettied up an otherwise mono-color dish.

On another occasion I was saved by the corkscrew-shaped pasta Cavatappi, which I think is the perfect choice for multi-generational mac 'n' cheese. When it's smothered in cheese sauce it has the look of elbow macaroni for the kids, with a little sophistication for the adults.

When I volunteer to take a main dish to a party at my toddler's preschool I most often turn to the quick and foolproof quesadilla, which can also be dressed up to suit a variety of tastes. But for my toddler's recent holiday party I branched out and made a super-simple and super-sized batch of Cavatappi macaroni 'n' cheese. This recipe also lends itself to adaptation, since you could easily substitute a stronger cheese to make it more over-the-top. (Goat cheese? I've tried it, it's great. Blue cheese? That'll be next!)

Recipes below. . .


Mark Bittman's Chestnut Cream
available here on page 457.


Macaroni 'n' Cheese for a Crowd
Serves 12-15 adult main course portions
  • 1 1/2 lbs pasta
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • 6 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 3 cups milk
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 4 cups shredded cheese (I used 3 c. sharp cheddar and 1 c. medium cheddar)
  • salt and pepper
Cook the pasta in a large pot of well-salted boiling water per instructions. Meanwhile melt the butter in a saucepan on medium-low. Whisk in the flour and mustard and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the milk and cayenne, and whisk to start breaking up the clumps. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking very often. Once the milk is just at boiling, turn the heat to low. Slowly add in the cheese, whisking constantly. The cheese may appear to clump at first, but if you keep whisking it will smooth out. Once the cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth, add salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the hot pasta and stir to coat. There will be a lot of sauce at first, but the consistency will be perfectly creamy once you stir it a bit. Serve hot.

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