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02/26/2012

~ Dad's Mac & Cheese, or: What I Cook Just for Me ~

PICT2697Last weekend, my friend asked me a short series of personal questions (all rolled into one). After complementing me on my blog, in a very sweet tone of voice, while sipping on a glass of wine, she inquired, "What do you cook when no one's looking", "when you're by yourself watching late night movies or Joe is traveling", "when you wake up starving at 2:00AM"?  This was and is a great question and it pretty much had one answer:  My father's version of macaroni and cheese!

This is not a recipe I EVER expected to be posting here on Kitchen Encounters.  That being said, after being asked, and, without hesitation, giving such an immediate and definitive answer, I realized it is a recipe I MUST post.  Since it's Oscar night tonight, if you or yours find yourself wanting a fabulous snack or meal at midnight, I suggest you serve what we'll be eating!

My Dad's mac & cheese is renegade good!

Vintage-boxWhen I was growing up during the 1960's and '70's, the recipe I'm sharing with you today was my dad's rendition of mac & cheese. Both my brother and I adored it. Both my mother and father would make it for us when they were pressed to get lunch or dinner prepared for us in a hurry... in between driving one or the both of us to and from a basketball game or a majorette practice.  I'm not going to lie, in terms of macaroni and cheese, it is more than just a bit "off the beaten path".  It's quite renegade, given the time period.  My dad is obviously not a card-carrying member of the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese generation.  He is a member of the "I don't eat fake-looking, orange-colored food" society.  I was into my twenties before I ever tasted one bite of boxed mac & cheese, and quite frankly, I didn't hate it, but I sure didn't love it. Despite TV commercials that told me "America spells cheese K-R-A-F-T", and some little girl who continually proclaimed "it's the cheesiest", I was never quite sold on their powdered cheese or "cheese-feed" concoctions in general!

PICT2693My dad's mac & cheese is a comforting, flavor-packed dish that will provide you with almost instant gratification because it goes from stovetop to table in the same amount of time it takes you to cook the macaroni.  His surprising, unusual combination of hot, spicy, buttered elbow macaroni, tossed with cold cottage cheese literally bursts with flavor.  If you can't quite grasp the concept of hot and cold in in the same bowl, please rethink your position.  Resist every urge you have to heat or melt the cottage cheese, or, God forbid, attempt to create a baked casserole out of this recipe... which might actually be good but is totally missing the point.  This dish is wonderful just as it is, but, if you happen to have a tomato and/or some fresh basil or parsley, do not hesitate to dice either or both of those up and toss them into the mix as well!

PICT26851  pound elbow macaroni

4  ounces salted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature (1 stick)

1/2-3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2-3/4  teaspoon salt, more or less, to taste

1/2-3/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less, to taste

12 ounces, large-curd cottage cheese, somewhat cold (Note:  Just before you are ready to start boiling the water for the pasta, remove the cottage cheese from the refrigerator and set it aside.  At serving time, it will be cold, but not ice cold.)

4-6 small, peeled, seeded and diced Campari tomatoes (optional)

1/4  cup minced fresh basil or parsley leaves (optional)

1/2  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for topping

additional crushed red pepper flakes, for garnish

PICT2686~ Step 1.  In an 6-quart stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 6-8 minutes.  Transfer to a colander.  

PICT2688Drain well and return hot pasta to still warm stockpot on still warm stovetop. 

PICT2689~ Step 2.  Add the butter, garlic powder, salt and red pepper flakes. Using two forks or two spoons, toss as you would a salad, until the butter is melted and the pasta is evenly coated.

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~ Step 3.  Add the cottage cheese, in large spoonfuls, along with the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and toss again, to distribute the cheeses evenly throughout the pasta.  Stir in the optional diced tomato and/or minced basil or parsley.

 

 

PICT2689

 

Dad's Mac & Cheese, or:  What I Cook Just for Me:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 6-quart stockpot; colander

Cook's Note:  The first time I served this dish to Joe (about 30 years ago), he looked at me like a man who was ready to rethink his recent marriage to me.  The kids were in bed and we were up very late that night, listening to one of his favorite shows, Austin City Limits.  After a few bites, he proceeded to eat the better part of the entire pot.  Nowadays, he just says something like, "honey, how about making a pot of your father's easy, cheesy, spicy pasta"!     

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

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