Ten years ago next month, Matt and I met in the Newark airport. Matt can tell you the exact date (and probably the exact time) because he has an uncanny knack for remembering scarily specific details. Speaking of details, we didn’t technically meet in the airport. I scowled at him from my seat at the gate, while he stood, arms crossed, weight on his heels, talking to a group of our Heathrow-bound peers. Matt has a knack for that, too. Being the one to introduce himself (formally and politely), to make new friends, and to start conversations. We didn’t actually meet until a week later, when I found myself in the dorm room next door to his and realized that I probably needed to acknowledge his existence. Given the impending anniversary of this momentous occasion, I feel compelled to share with you some of my favorite Matt stories and memories over the next several/very many posts.
Today’s story is inspired by last night’s dinner, a gloriously gooey and crunchy baked macaroni and cheese. I’ve told you before that as a child I lived almost exclusively on my mom’s elbows and American cheese and I’ve probably also mentioned that it’s my ultimate comfort food. So, when Matt and I were living in our tower in Cambridge, thousands of miles from home, it seemed like the perfect meal to make for him. At this point, I had not only introduced myself, but had convinced Matt to start dating me. He has a knack for that, too, which made being a couple easy from the start. We comfortably fell into an Adler/Krauss-like schedule that revolved around schoolwork, exercise, and meals. His perfectly timed sarcasm, unexpected sweet gestures, and quirky personality disarmed me in such a subtle and unassuming way that I was constantly surprised to realize just how happy he made me. As a misguided thank you for his greatness, I decided that I would make Matt a pot of macaroni and cheese, just like my mom made me. But American cheese is rather hard to come by in the UK, so I settled for Red Leicester. DO NOT DO THIS. The result was a ball of stringy cheese, surrounded by naked noodles in a pool of separated butter and milk. I was mortified. But Matt, as he still does for all of my cooking failures today, ate it without a word of complaint.
I am very pleased to tell you that last night’s macaroni and cheese was of an entirely different species. Baked. (Sorry mom, baked is better.) And lightened with a can of pureed pumpkin (because we’re not twenty anymore) and topped with bread crumbs made from last weekend’s attempt at rye bread. I say attempt because the results were mixed – it tastes good, but the shape resembles a well-worn speed bump, resulting in squat bits of toast that look like glorified croutons. That said, the rye made excellent bread crumbs, crunchy and sour and perfectly browned. Matt ate two helpings, so I’m going to venture to say that he enjoyed this version slightly more than the first one. It seems that everything, except our waistlines, gets better with age.
Macaroni and Four Cheeses from The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger
One 16-ounce box elbow macaroni
Two 10-ounce packages frozen pureed winter squash
2 cups low-fat milk
1 1/3 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
2/3 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese (2 ounces)
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Cook the macaroni according the package directions. Drain and transfer to the prepared baking dish.
Meanwhile, place the frozen squash and milk in a large saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up the squash with a spoon until it is defrosted. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar, Jack cheese, ricotta, salt, mustard, and cayenne. Pour this mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine.
Combine the bread crumbs, Parmesan, and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake until the cheeses are bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes, then broil for 3 minutes so the top is crisp and nicely browned.
[A few notes from me: I used canned pumpkin in place of frozen squash and swapped the Monterey Jack out for Emmentaler because that’s what I had in the house. Any cheese will work here. Well, any except Red Leicester, apparently.]