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The Mass Media

Food for Thought – 2/13/03

I’ve always associated cold winter afternoons with hot soup and cold winter evenings with macaroni and cheese. Served with a cucumber salad, macaroni and cheese gives you a well balanced-meal that is no more fattening than any other butter, cheese and pasta dish.

Visually, this meal is not as stimulating as most pasta dishes, but the colors of the white cheddar, fresh tomatoes and bright green cucumbers make a nice mix on the table. The texture of the cheddar with the browned breadcrumbs is utterly satisfying and the flavor makes up for any lacking in the visual aesthetic. I find this meal goes best with a good stout beer rather than wine. If you prefer wine, this is a fairly versatile meal and any dry wine should go well with the flavors.

About the ingredients:

For the cucumber salad, you’re going to want to slice the cucumbers as thinly as possible. I usually use the slicing part of a cheese grater which yields slices thinner than using a knife. You can peel the cucumber first, but I like to leave the skin on. The salad dressing I’ve listed is my standard dressing, so you will probably see it in various incarnations over time. The amounts listed for marjoram and thyme in the dressing are assuming you are using dried herbs. If you can find fresh marjoram and thyme at your local supermarket, double the amount of the fresh herbs and you will have an amazing dressing. The parsley sprinkled over the top of the salad needs to be fresh.

As always, when cooking pasta, be sure not to overcook it. This is especially important in this recipe where the pasta will be baked with the cheese sauce after it has been boiled. If your pasta is too soft, it will be ridiculously soft when it comes out of the oven. You can use margarine instead of butter in the making of the sauce, if you prefer. Any kind of white flour will work fine. You can use orange colby cheese instead of white cheddar if you like, both make a great cheese sauce. Breadcrumbs that come in a can from your local supermarket work fine, but the best breadcrumbs are made from stale French bread, blended on high speed until you have coarse crumbs. As always, kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper will give you the best flavors.

Recipes of the Week

Cucumber Salad

1 Medium Cucumber, thinly sliced4 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil2 T. Balsamic Vinegar1 Clove Garlic, pressed1/2 t. Dijon Mustard1/4 t. Marjoram1/4 t. Thyme1/4 t. Kosher SaltFresh Ground Black Pepper2 T. Chopped Fresh Parsley

Place the cucumber slices into a colander to drain while you make the dressing for the salad. In a measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and mustard. Add the marjoram, thyme, kosher salt and several twists of black pepper. Let the dressing stand for 15 minutes for the herbs to infuse into the dressing. Divide the cucumber slices into 4 bowls and drizzle the dressing over the top. Sprinkle the parsley over the salads and serve.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. Elbow Macaroni2 t. Kosher Salt3qts. Water3 T. Butter3 T. Flour3/4 C. Shredded Cheddar1 C. MilkFresh Ground Black PepperKosher Salt1/4 C. Breadcrumbs1 Vine Ripened Tomato, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large pot, bring the water and 2 t. of kosher salt to a boil. Add the macaroni, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. While the macaroni is cooking, melt the butter over low heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and mix thoroughly. Add the cheddar and mix quickly. Add about 1/4 C. of the milk, stirring the sauce constantly. Stir until the cheese starts to melt and the sauce starts to thicken. Add the milk in small amounts, stirring constantly and letting the milk be absorbed into the sauce before adding more. Keep doing this until the sauce is smooth and slightly thinner than gravy. You might end up using more or less than the full cup of milk, depending on the type of cheddar you buy. Remove the sauce from the heat and set aside. When the macaroni has cooked, drain and return to the pot. Add the cheese sauce, several twists of black pepper and kosher salt to taste. Put all of the macaroni and cheese into a glass baking dish and sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes or until lightly browned on top. Remove from the oven and divide the macaroni and cheese onto 4 large plates. Arrange the slices of tomato on top of each portion and serve.