Posted by foodhappy on
Fellow mac-and-cheese-loving Millennials: We’ve been duped!
Thanks to a blue-boxed processed pasta dish that shall remain nameless, we’ve come to believe that pasta with cheese sauce is, at its heart, a food of convenience.
And then, sometime in our late teens or early twenties, as we start to flex our culinary muscles, we get it in our heads that we will make macaroni and cheese from scratch, and our perceptions change.
20, 30, 40 minutes after we embark on our dinner adventure – long after the familiar 8-10 minutes we’ve come to expect from our childhood (and/or university?) years have passed – we find ourselves grating mountains of cheese while we simultaneously attempt to tame a volcanic roux. (Add an extra 20-30 minutes if some persuasive recipe writer has convinced you to top your creation with buttery bread crumbs and bake it all, alas.)
It’s not a bad thing, at the core of it. We learn to exercise patience and perseverance. We level up our kitchen skills. We make a cheese sauce!
But sometimes, you simply can’t spare an hour to cook.
Friends, when you’re short on time, you can still have your pasta, without falling back on the blue box. Because, as a spartan fridge recently taught me, all you have to do to create a delicious cheese sauce is stir soft feta, extra virgin olive oil and pepper into hot pasta. And if you use a variety that cooks shockingly fast – like super-skinny capellini (angel hair) – your dinner will be ready a mere five minutes after the pasta water boils, tops.
I should acknowledge that unlike the boxed stuff: 1) The ingredients will cost more than $1; 2) You can’t keep it in your pantry for two years; and, 3) It’s not made with macaroni, but macaroni isn’t nearly as tasty (or convenient) anyway. And it’s still devoid of vegetables and proteins (though, as I note in the recipe below, you can remedy this easily without extending your cooking time significantly).
But it is faster. And thanks to the liberal quantities of salt and fat, it maintains the addictive quality you’ve come to love. Plus, you made it. And it’s not neon, which counts for quite a lot, or so I’m told by those who didn’t grow up with the blue box.
5-minute Mac and Cheese
Notes: Given the short ingredients list, quality here is key! Be especially choosy about your feta, looking for a cheese that’s soft and not too salty (sample a few varieties at the deli if you can). I use goat feta from Edmonton’s Italian Centre.
320 grams of dry capellini (angel hair) pasta
1 1/4 cups of soft feta (I like goat), finely crumbled
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed
1 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
~1/2 tsp fine sea salt (start with less if you’re using table salt)
Optional: If you want to add some veggies to your pasta, consider tossing in ~1.5 cups of frozen peas or finely chopped fresh broccoli to the pot at the same time as the pasta. You could also add some finely diced fresh tomato or a sparing amount of very finely diced kalamata olives (start with 1 tbsp) to the pasta just before serving.
1. Bring a large pot filled 2/3 with well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Once the water is on the stove, prep your ingredients if you haven’t already!
2. As soon as the water boils, add your pasta to the pot (if that pasta looks too long to fit in the pot, break the pieces in half before you drop them in the water). Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package, checking it regularly for doneness. Capellini typically needs only 2-4 minutes before it’s al dente!
3. As soon as the pasta is cooked to your liking, turn off the stove, then carefully drain the pasta (best to do this in the pot with the lid on, as the pasta will likely spill through a colander), reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water in a heat-safe cup or bowl.
4. In the same pot, stir the pasta with the feta, olive oil, pepper and sea salt until the smaller pieces of cheese have melted and the pasta is well-coated with the pseudo-sauce. If the pasta looks sticky or dry, stir in a few splashes of the pasta water to loosen things up.
5. Serve while it’s hot!