“Grown-Up” Mac ‘n Cheese

It’s been hot out…really hot. Sticky, humid, disgusting, NYC-in-the-summer-that-everybody-dreads hot. It’s the kind of hot that forces New Yorkers to flee the city on weekends like scattering bugs. 26 summers here and I still haven’t gotten used to the feeling of an extra humid July/August. I know that down south (and many of the places I’ve gone in my travels) they laugh at our interpretation of “summer heat” and that the mercury in our northern thermometers doesn’t even compare to theirs, but city heat carries some extra special additions. Namely, we don’t drive…so we walk. We walk together in giant throngs of over-heated, fast-moving suckers who got stuck here during the most unpleasant months of the city. We squash ourselves into snug-fitting subway cars with all our sweaty glory. We complain about it, and yet we still randomly attempt to bake underneath the searing sky in the breeze-less fields of central park and call it “relaxing”. We bring this on ourselves by staying here, truly…but at least brownstone rooftops are more useful now at nighttime.

I couldn’t think of anything “summer-y” to cook this week and there was no time to christen the sangria pitchers that have been collecting dust in the corner of my kitchen. I picked my brain for something different and decided to do a change-up of the typical mac ‘n cheese. Despite virtually never eating mac ‘n cheese on my own (not since the Kraft days of my childhood), I figured that I could find a way to make it sound “adult-like” if I tried really, really hard. My solution was to add goat cheese…instant adult (even though I’ve been eating goat cheese since I was 3 ½).

“Grown-Up” Mac ‘n Cheese:

Feeds about 4, possibly 5 (appetite-dependent).

-Elbow macaroni, 1 box (about 12oz)

-Sharp cheddar cheese, an 8oz block, grated with a cheese grater (I don’t recommend getting pre-shredded because I think there’s a better selection of block cheddar)

-Plain goat cheese, 4 oz package

-Sour cream, approximately 6oz

-Milk, ½ cup

-Butter, 2 tbsp, melted (and a little extra to cook with)

– ½ Large yellow onion, chopped finely

-Minced garlic, about 3 tbsp

-Flour, a few spoonfuls

-Hot sauce, to taste

-Breadcrumbs, a few handfuls

To Cook:

Boil your pasta until it is al dente (about ¾ cooked), set aside. In a large pot (heavy pot is best), melt a little butter and toss in chopped the onions and garlic over medium heat. Cook for several minutes until the onions caramelize and lose moisture. Reduce heat to low and slowly add milk to the pan (too quick and it will curdle…this happened to me, though, and everything was still fine! Be flexible…). Add the hot sauce, shredded cheddar and goat cheese. Stir until it begins to melt, and then add the flour (until slightly thickened) and sour cream. Stir cheese mixture until it all melts together, then immediately remove from heat. Salt.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a baking dish with butter (best to use a dish with raised sides, like you would use for a cake or brownies) and spread cooked pasta into dish. Pour cheese mixture over pasta to cover evenly. Mix bread crumbs with melted butter in a side bowl and sprinkle crumbles of it over your pasta.

Bake for about 20-30 minutes depending on the depth of your baking pan (smaller, deeper pan = longer cooking time). For the last few minutes, stick it under the broiler until the top becomes slightly browned and crispy. It’s finished when the top has a slight crunch to it and the inside is creamy.

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I served mine with steamed broccoli to offset the heaviness, but add anything else that your hungry little heart desires. The goat cheese gives it an unusual tangy flavor that goes well with the hearty cheddar and the spice of the hot sauce. I also think it keeps it from being unnecessarily rich, as overly-rich foods sometimes mean that portions don’t get finished…and wasting dinner is about as cool-sounding to me as riding the subway in a heat wave.

Enjoy your super-mature-adult-oriented, not-from-a-box dinner. Happy (hot) Summer!

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