Back to Basics Macaroni and Cheese

When my children were little, I found a recipe for macaroni and cheese on the back of the Creamettes box.  This was the recipe I made for years and years.  I recently made it again instead of the recipe I’ve made for the last 10 years (Judy’s Creamy and Delicious Macaroni and Cheese), and I discovered that I may like it more because it seems a little less rich.  It’s basically the same as my current recipe except that it has much less cheese.

  • 2 cups elbows (I like Creamettes) (about 1/2 of 1 lb. box)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 10 oz. Land o’Lakes yellow American cheese
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk 

Melt butter in saucepan.  Add flour, salt, and pepper.  Whisk over medium heat for about 2 minutes.  Add milk gradually.  Whisk over medium heat for about 10 minutes till starts to thicken a little, but not too much.  Add in the cheese.

Cook pasta in boiling water till just cooked- not overcooked.  Drain in colander.  Butter a casserole dish.  Pour sauce into casserole.  Pour the macaroni noodles in and mix together till noodles are evenly coated with the sauce.

Cook at 375 degrees for about an hour till the cheese starts to rise to top and brown and the edges start to get brown and crusty looking.

Baked Penne with Marinara, Parmesan, Mozzarella, and Miniature Meatballs

I wanted to make a baked pasta dish and add my homemade meatballs, so I came up with this very easy recipe.  I was thrilled when my daughter told me how much she loved the dish.  I decided to omit ricotta cheese from the dish, and I was glad.  I thought it came out perfect without it.

Ingredients:

1 lb. penne or ziti, whole wheat or not

1 lb. or a little more of grated mozzarella (I used Whole Foods part skim)

about 1/2 cup grated parmesan

about 1 qt. marinara sauce (I used jarred)

about 1 teaspoon fresh thyme if you happen to have it

a sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes, if you like the heat

for the meatballs:

1 lb. grass fed or organic ground beef, 85% fat

about 1/3 cup ketchup

1 large egg

abut 1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs or white ones

kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder

make the meatballs:

In a mixing bowl, gently mix the ground beef, ketchup, 1 egg, about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, about 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, and the bread crumbs.  I use my hands to mix gently.  Then form little meatballs- a little less than 1 inch in diameter.  Put about 2 tablespoons light olive oil or canola oil in nonstick saute pan and heat.  Gently place meatballs in pan and brown only very lightly on all sides.  Pour marinara sauce in a saucepan, and gently place drained meatballs in sauce.  Add the thyme if using as well as red pepper flakes, and simmer covered over low flame about 10 or 15 min.  Turn heat off.

for the assembly:

Cook pasta in boiling salted water till al dente.  Drain in colander. In 9 by 13 rectangular or oval baking dish, spoon a little sauce in pan to coat bottom.  Put a nice layer of noodles to cover bottom of pan.  Spoon about 1/3 of sauce and meatballs over the noodles.  Sprinkle with parmesan and about 1/3 of grated mozzarella.  Put another 1/3 of noodles on top, 1/3 of sauce and meatballs, parmesan, and 1/3 of mozzarella.  Spread last 1/3 of noodles, the rest of the sauce and meatballs, parmesan, and rest of mozzarella.

Either put in fridge to bake later, or bake right away.  From the fridge, it will take about 1 hour at 375 degrees.  If you are baking it immediately, it might only take 30 minutes for it to get nice and bubbly.

Easy Mac and Cheese

I had read a recipe in the NY Times for a Crusty Macaroni and Cheese.  I was having some company, and I decided to give it a try.  It’s very simple to make as you don’t make a white sauce or a roux.

The consensus was that it was very good, but not quite as creamy as my regular recipe.  But I liked it a lot, and I’ll definitely make it again.

Adapted from the New York Times Jan. 4, 2006

(The quantities are slightly changed from original recipe)

 

Recipe: Crusty Macaroni and Cheese

3 tablespoons butter (I used unsalted)

12 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (I used an extra 3 oz. for the top)

16 ounces American cheese coarsely grated (mine was just sliced thin from the deli, and then broken into smallish pieces)

1 pound elbow pasta, boiled in salted water until just tender, drained, and rinsed under cold water
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional) (I used 1 teaspoon black pepper instead)
Salt (I used 2 light teaspoons of kosher salt)
2/3 cup whole milk

 

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Use one tablespoon butter to thickly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Combine grated cheeses and set aside three heaping cups for topping.

2. In a large bowl, toss together the cooked pasta, cheeses, pepper, and salt to taste. Place in prepared pan and evenly pour milk over surface. Sprinkle reserved cheese on top, dot with remaining butter and bake, uncovered, 45 minutes. Raise heat to 400 degrees and bake 15 to 20 minutes more, until crusty on top and bottom.

Yield: 8 to 12 servings.

Easiest Baked Ziti

This is a recipe that is so easy to make and is just delicious.  Everyone loves it, kids and adults.  If you are having people over for dinner, for a party, or even a barbecue, the addition of this dish will always be appreciated!  

  • 1 pound of ziti or penne pasta
  • 1 pound of grated mozzarella cheese, part-skim or whole milk
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 14-16 oz. ricotta cheese, part-skim or whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, dried oregano, and red pepper flakes to taste
  • about 40 oz. of marinara sauce, either jarred or homemade marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Start boiling pasta in large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions for al dente; drain pasta.  While you are cooking the pasta, mix ricotta cheese in a bowl the egg, some salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste, and oregano (optional).  Pour about 1/2 cup of sauce on bottom of 9 x 13 oval or rectangular baking dish.  Spread about 1/3 of noodles on top.  With you clean hands, drop dollops of ricotta mixture over noodles (to use about 1/3 of ricotta).  Sprinkle about 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese over, and sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan or Romano cheese.  Then with a large spoon, drizzle marinara sauce over, to use about 1/3 of the remaining sauce.  Repeat with 1/3 of noodles, 1/3 of ricotta, 1/3 of mozzarella, a little Parmesan or Romano, 1/3 of sauce.  Repeat with last 1/3 of noodles, last 1/3 of ricotta, remaining sauce, and then top off with remaining mozzarella.

Cover loosely with foil and bake for about 40 minutes.  When starting to be bubbly around the edges, uncover dish, and place under broiler – at  least 8 inches from broiler element.  Watch carefully so as not to burn, but you are looking for the cheese to be browned nicely all over the top.  Serve immediately.   

Note: You can make this up to 2 days  in advance up  and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.  You will need to add about 1/2  to the cooking time if you are baking right out of the fridge. 

Spinach Lasagna Rolls Baked With Mozzarella and Marinara Sauce

I wanted to make a lighter version of lasagna, but without sacrificing any flavor.  I added spinach to make the dish a little healthier.  I used my simplest homemade marinara sauce.  The homemade sauce makes all the difference!

for the marinara sauce:

about 1/3 cup olive oil ( I use light)

2 28-ounce cans of crushed tomatoes (preferably Sclafani brand; these crushed tomatoes are so delicious, you could eat them right out of the can!)

1 medium onion, medium dice

3 large garlic cloves, grated

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1/4 to 1/2 cup water

for the lasagna rolls:

about 1 pound uncooked lasagna noodles (do not use the no-boil noodles)

1 15 oz. container ricotta cheese (either whole milk or part skim)

1 10 oz. box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry

1 large egg

1 pound of grated mozzarella cheese, divided (I usually use whole milk)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (I prefer thyme)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

light sprinkling of red pepper flakes

some freshly cracked black pepper

for the sauce:

In large deep skillet or saucepan, pour the live oil.  Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and the diced onion.  Saute for about 4 minutes over medium flame until onion is translucent.  Grate in the garlic, and saute 1 more minute.  Pour in the crushed tomatoes, sprinkle in the salt and the freshly cracked pepper.  Cover and simmer over lowest flame for about 20 minutes.  Sprinkle in the fresh thyme leaves and stir.  Add about 1/4 cup water if sauce is really thick.  You may even need another 1/4 cup of water.  This will make about 2 quarts of sauce.  You will need about 1 quart of sauce for this recipe. You can freeze the leftover sauce.

for the lasagna rolls:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. 

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the ricotta, the spinach, one cup of the Parmesan or Romano cheese, salt, red pepper flakes, freshly ground pepper, 1 large egg, 1 cup of grated mozzarella, the fresh thyme leaves or the freshly chopped basil, and about 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water.  Set aside.

Boil lasagna noodles until cooked, reserving some pasta water.  Rinse under cold water, and lay noodles out on sheet pan. 

Spoon some marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9 by 13 oval or rectangular baking dish (sauce should be about 1/8 inch high in pan).  Take one lasagna noodle, and spoon about 3 tablespoons of the spinach cheese mixture on the noodle. Then with a knife or rubber spatula, smooth the mixture evenly on the entire noodle.  Roll the noodle up, and place seem side down in the dish.  Repeat with each lasagna noodle.  You should have enough filling for about 17 noodles.  Then spoon some marinara sauce on top of each lasagna roll.  Sprinkle lightly with the 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan or Romano.  Then sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese over each roll. 

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil.  Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.  Uncover and bake until the cheese on top becomes golden, about 15 minutes longer.  Let stand for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat some leftover marinara sauce and serve it alongside.

Notes:

I usually try to buy mozzarella that is not pre-grated in the bag, because the pre-grated mozzarella is just not as good.  It is very easy to grate the cheese yourself, it is less expensive, and it is just better all-round.

I make this and freeze it unbaked.  Then I let it defrost in the refrigerator the day I want to bake it.

Baked Penne, Ziti, Or Campagnelle With Red Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms, Olives, Tomatoes, and Fresh Mozzarella

This Baked Pasta With Vegetables Is Better Than Anything You Will Eat In A Restaurant! 

At least ten years ago, I had an absolutely delicious baked pasta dish at a great restaurant in Westfield, New Jersey called Ferrara’s.  The pasta was amazing, but I never saw it again on their menu.  I have been working on recreating that dish, and I finally have!  I made this for my daughter and her husband this week.  They are vegetarians and they enjoy pasta dishes that have lots of veggies.  They loved this as much as I did.  My daughter kept repeating, “This is so flavorful!” Her husband really liked it, too.   I recommend making this if you are in the mood for baked ziti, but you’re a little bored with it.  Please give this recipe a try.  It is truly delicious!

  • 1 pound pasta -(I used Barilla’s campagnelle, which look like little trumpets.  This shape pasta is awesome!  If I couldn’t find campagnelle, I would substitute penne.)
  • about 10 oz. of whole milk ricotta cheese (may substitute part-skim)
  • 1/2 cup of freshly grated romano or parmigiana cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of starchy pasta water (reserved from when you cook the pasta)
  • 1 large, but not huge, red onion, quartered and thinly sliced (may use white or yellow onion)
  • about 6 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 very large red bell pepper, seeded, quartered and thinly sliced into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1- 10 ounce box of baby bella mushrooms, thinly sliced (may substitute white mushrooms)
  • about 8 assorted black and green pitted olives, cut in halves or thirds – optional (I pick an assortment of marinated black and green olives with red pepper flakes, or garlic, or oregano from the olive bar at the supermarket)
  • 1-28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • about 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • dried oregano

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly oil a 9 x 13 rectangular or oval baking dish.   Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. 

Heat a large skillet over medium heat with the olive oil.  Add about 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, and stir.  After about 2 minutes, add the peppers, onions,  and the mushrooms.  Sprinkle with some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Let them sit without turning so the mushrooms have a chance to brown.  Turn after about 4 minutes, and let sit for 1 or two minutes, then mix.  Cook another 2 or so minutes and add the garlic.  Mix and cook another 2-4 minutes.  Vegetables should be softened by this time.  Add the crushed tomatoes and reduce the flame to low.  Add a little more salt and pepper and stir with a wooden spoon.   Add the olives.   Let simmer for a few minutes uncovered, then cover the pan and keep on a low simmer. 

Start to boil the pasta, adding salt if you wish.  In a large mixing bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with the freshly grated romano cheese, the parsley, and a few grinds of freshly ground pepper, using a rubber spatula.  Then take about a half of a ladleful or 1/4 cup of the pasta water and mix it in with the ricotta cheese mixture.  The ricotta cheese mixture should become somewhat creamy.  Cook the pasta till al dente, drain it, and pour it into the bowl with the ricotta mixture.  Gently mix together using a rubber spatula. 

Pour the pasta into the prepared baking dish.  Ladle the tomato and vegetable sauce over the pasta.  Gently mix it with a spoon,  but don’t go crazy.  It should just be slightly mixed together.  You don’t want the ricotta cheese to just blend into the tomato sauce.  Top with the all the thinly sliced fresh mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle lightly with more crushed red pepper flakes, and then sprinkle evenly with about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of oregano.

Bake for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees.  When the mozzarella cheese is starting to look really melty, change the setting on the oven to broil.  Watch very carefully and take out of the oven when the cheese starts to brown, after about 5-10 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Note#1:  Obviously, omit the olives if you don’t like them.  They add a definite taste to the dish, so you have to like them to use them!

Notes #2:  When I make this I often prepare it the day or night before I  will be serving it.  I do not slice or put the mozzarella on at this point.  The next day, I let the dish sit on the counter for about an hour.  I bake the dish at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, covered with aluminum foil.  Then I take it out of the oven, uncover it, and put the sliced mozzarella on top, sprinkle it with some red pepper flakes and the oregano.  I put it back in the middle of the oven uncovered for about 10 minutes.  Then I change the setting on the oven to broil.  I  watch it as it broils for another 10 minutes or so just until the cheese started to brown.   

   

Adele Hochheiser’s (Sister’s) Dairy Noodle Pudding/Kugel – (Plus- Look at the footnote to see a healthier variation on the classic using whole grain egg noodles)

Serve this amazing side dish to go along with a light dairy meal, as part of  a brunch buffet, or for your Yom Kippur break the fast feast!

My wonderful mother, Shirley Fried, got this recipe from her best friend and our favorite neighbor, Adele Hochheiser. I think the recipe is nicknamed Sister’s, because Adele’s first cousins affectionately referred to her as “sister.” My mother made this often, and oh did my mother, my father, and I love it. For some reason, my brother Kenny was not fond of this dish. My mother made this to go with our fish night- our Wednesday night dinner. I don’t think I’ve written about my mother’s weekly dinner schedule yet- when I was growing up, so this is as good a place as any. Throughout my entire childhood, we basically ate the same thing every week. And believe me, that was not a bad thing. There is something very reassuring about knowing what your meals are going to be. My mother’s meals were all extremely balanced, too. I loved each and every meal. How I looked forward to them!  Here is our weekly dinner menu:

Monday: rib steak ( and sometimes London broil, which was cooked by me in my teen years after we had a gas grill), french fries, LeSeurr peas, salad with Wishbone Italian Dressing, and years later, Ken’s Caesar, or Milani 1890 French)

Tuesday: stew (Adele Hochheiser’s recipe) with rice and salad, or spaghetti and meat sauce (my Aunt Sally Hindes’s recipe) with salad and garlic bread, or sweet and sour meatballs with mashed potatoes, frozen spinach, and salad, or vegetable soup with flanken (a rare treat)- soup served separately and flanken served on a plate with mashed potatoes, or meatloaf (Anita Lapidus’s recipe) with baked potatoes, string beans and salad

Wednesday: a beautiful platter of tuna salad served on a bed of lettuce surrounded by sliced cucumbers, radishes, green peppers, and a plate of sliced Jersey tomatoes (in the summer), accompanied by macaroni and cheese casserole, or this noodle pudding recipe, or brown rice pudding, or apple fritters

Thursday: same as Tuesday

Friday: My mother alternated between chicken and brisket. She cooked one Empire frozen chicken cup up in eighths baked with either Saucy Susan, or Kellogg’s Cornflakes Crumbs, or fried Southern style by our beloved cleaning lady who I loved, Harriet. The chicken was served with one 8 oz. can of peas and carrots, salad, and my mother’s delicious pineapple noodle pudding. She served her brisket with our favorite potato dish, brenta, peas and carrots, and salad.

All dinners were followed by either a half of a grapefruit, fruit cocktail, sliced canned peaches or pear halves, a wedge of cantaloupe, or jello.

This was followed by dessert. My brother Kenny and I were allowed one Tastycake, or 3 Hydrox, or 3 Chips Ahoy cookies. This was my father’s favorite part of the meal.  He would take out one package of chocolate Tastycakes, Krimpets, peanut butter Tandytakes, or  a  Tasycake Junior, and he’d eat the entire package with a few glasses of ice cold skim milk.  How my father adored his Tastycakes!

Anyway, here is the recipe for Adele’s noodle pudding.  It is rich and delicious!

for the filling:

  • 1 pound extra wide or broad egg noodles (such as Pennsylvania Dutch)
  • 1 1/2 sticks of butter or Fleischmann’s margarine
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (I reduce to 3/4 cup sugar)
  • 1 pound small curd or whipped cottage cheese I use Friendship brand cottage cheese)
  • 1 pint (16 oz.) sour cream ( or substitute plain Greek yogurt)
  • 5 extra large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 scant teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup raisins (optional- I usually don’t use them)

for the cornflakes crumbs topping:

Mix one cup of Kellogg’s Cornflakes Crumbs (this comes already prepared as crumbs in the box) with 3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine.  Set topping aside.

Or crush by hand about 3 cups of corn flakes, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of melted butter or margarine, and about 1 tablespoon of sugar.

for an alternate cornflakes crumbs topping:

Make cornflakes crumbs yourself by placing cornflakes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, and pulsing until the crumbs are quite fine. Continue until you have one cup of crumbs.  You will probably need about 3 cups of cornflakes to make one cup of cornflakes crumbs.  Mix with 3 tablespoons of melted butter or margarine. Set topping aside.

for a more rustic cornflakes crumbs topping:

Place about 3 cups of cornflakes into a ziploc bag.  Using a rolling pin or your hands, crush the cornflakes until you have crumbs that are not quite so fine.  Mix cornflakes with about 6 tablespoons of melted margarine or butter.  Set topping aside.

for the filling:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9 x 13 glass baking dish.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook noodles till al dente.  Drain noodles in colander.  While noodles are draining, put the margarine or butter into the same pot to melt on low heat.  When margarine or butter is melted, take the pot off the heat.  Put the noodles back in.  Add the sugar and mix with a rubber spatula.  Add the cottage cheese and mix in.  Then add the milk, the vanilla, the beaten eggs, and mix in with the spatula.  Finally, add the sour cream, and blend in.  (add raisins at this point if you wish)

Pour filling into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle cornflakes crumbs topping evenly over the top of the filling.  Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour 10 min. to 1 hour and 20 min. until starts to puff in the center, and until the bottom and sides start to brown.  The center should be set, and a toothpick should come out clean.

Notes:  The topping is optional.  If you prefer, you can just sprinkle the top with cinnamon.  You can also reduce the calories in the dish by reducing the sugar to 3/4 cup and reducing the margarine or butter to 1 stick.  You may also use a lowfat cottage cheese.  I do not recommend using a low fat sour cream or low fat milk. 

You may freeze this unbaked without the topping.  Wrap it well, though.  Then defrost it in the refrigerator, make the topping, and bake it.  You may also prepare this up to 2 days before you wish to bake it, and keep it refrigerated without the topping on it.  Then make the topping the day you will be baking the kugel, and put the topping on it right before you put it in the oven.  If you are baking this right out of the refrigerator, it will probably take about 20 more minutes of baking time. 

May 18, 2011

My daughter Randi asked me to make the kugel with whole wheat noodles.  Luckily I found Ronzoni whole grain egg noodles at the Stop and Shop in Aberdeen.  The bag is only 12 oz. but I basically kept the quantities of everything the same since whole grain tends to absorb more liquid.  Changes included for the filling: I used about 1 1/4 cups milk, I used only 1/2 stick butter, I added about 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon to filling and 3 small boxes of organic raisins, I used 1 teaspoon vanilla, I used a heavy 1/2 cup sugar, I happened to use 1 pound Friendship 2% cottage cheese- pot style,  I used 16 oz. Daisy sour cream, 5 extra large eggs.  For the topping, I melted 2 tablespoons butter in a bowl, I added 2 cups of coursely crushed corn flakes crumbs, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Follow above directions for baking.

Rich Penne with Four Cheeses

I wanted to create a baked pasta dish that would be a little different and maybe a little more elegant than my standard (but still delicious) baked ziti.  I like the color of the sauce in this dish; it’s light pink, almost the color of a vodka sauce. I tested this  new dish out on my children, and they loved it.  Then I prepared it for a Christmas Eve party that I was doing all of the cooking for at my beau Jim’s house. I think you will agree that this cheesy, rich dish is just delicious!

  • Kosher salt 
  • 1 pound penne rigate pasta (I like the brand De Cecco best because it stays al dente) 
  • 2 cups heavy cream 
  • 12 ounces crushed tomatoes in thick puree
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese (whole milk or part skim)
  • 4 ounces fontina cheese, cut into a medium dice
  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into a medium dice (you can substitute regular mozzerella cheese)
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes 
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (for dotting over the top of the dish)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a 9 x 13 rectangular or oval baking dish.

In a very large pot, bring salted water to a boil.  Put the cream, the tomatoes, the romano cheese, the ricotta cheese, the mozzarella cheese, the fontina cheese, the pepper, and the red pepper in a large mixing bowl. Then cook the penne to al dente.  Drain the pasta well in a colander, and then add to all the ingredients in the mixing bowl.  Mix well with a rubber spatula.  Pour into prepared baking dish.  Dot with butter.  Bake until bubbly and browned on top, about 35 minutes. 

Note:  You can prepare this up to 2 days in advance and put in the refrigerator unbaked.  Then let it come to room temperature before you bake it.  If you bake it right out of the refrigerator add 15 minutes to the baking time.