Today’s column features an Alfredo mac and cheese recipe, not included in a recent mac and cheese column, and several fabulous variations.
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Alfredo mac and cheese — kosher salt, 8 ounces penne or other short pasta, 1 clove garlic smashed, 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, 2 cups heavy cream, freshly ground pepper, 1/2 cup freshly ground parmesan cheese, plus more for the topping. Enjoy the basic recipe and try a variation your family would find delightful.
Preparation: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain the pasta. Meanwhile rub a large skillet with the smashed garlic clove, then discard the garlic. Add the butter and melt over medium-high heat. Add the cream, 1/2 tablespoon salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until reduced by one-third, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parmesan. Add the pasta and just enough of the reserved cooking water to make a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper and top with a sprinkle of parmesan. Al dente is translated, to the bite, which means don’t over cook the pasta. The pasta should be firm, not mushy. A test for al denté cut a piece of pasta in half vertically. The inner center of the pasta should be slightly firmer than the outside.
For different flavors of Alfredo mac and cheese prepare the basic recipe, then add one of the following additions.
Sun-dried tomato — Stir in 4 ounces of goat cheese and 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes and a handful of chopped basil.
Creamy vegetable — Stir in 2 cups cooked mixed vegetables and 2 teaspoons each mascarpone and chopped Italian parsley.
Three-cheese — Cook 1 minced shallot in the butter when preparing the basic Alfredo mac and cheese. Then stir in 1/2 cup asiago cheese, and 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella. Top with chopped Italian parsley. Italian parsley is also known as flat leaf parsley. It has flat leaves instead of curly. The produce person can help you find it, if you’re not sure.
Pesto — Stir in 2 teaspoons pesto and a handful of freshly chopped basil.
Garlic and herb — Add 1 minced garlic clove and 1 teaspoon each chopped basil, parsley, chives and thyme to the butter.
Walnut-blue cheese — Toast 1/4 cup chopped walnuts and 1 teaspoon chopped sage in 1/2 teaspoon butter. Make Alfredo mac and cheese, adding 1/4 cup soft blue cheese with the parmesan.
Pancetta and peas — Add 1/2 cup frozen peas to the pasta during the last 3 minutes of cooking. Cook 2 ounces chopped sliced pancetta, Italian bacon, in the butter before adding the cream. Top with chopped parsley.
Tortellini — Make Alfredo mac and cheese, using 1 9-ounce package of tortellini and only 1 cup cream. Stir in 1/2 cup marinara sauce and a handful of chopped basil. Add all of the reserved cooking water to make a loose sauce. Transfer to a buttered baking dish. Top with 1/4 each ricotta and shredded mozzarella. Broil until golden.
Mushroom and leek — When preparing Alfredo mac and cheese, use 2 teaspoons butter. Cook 1 sliced leek, 3 cups sliced mushrooms and 1 tablespoon chopped thyme in 2 teaspoons butter. Add 1/2 cup grated havarti with the parmesan and add all of the reserved cooking water to make a loose sauce. Transfer to a buttered baking dish. Top with 1/2 cup grated havarti and broil until golden.
Upside-down — Cook 6 ounces Canadian bacon in butter in a large cast-iron skilled, turning, until browned. Arrange in an even layer in the skillet. Make Alfredo mac and cheese in a separate saucepan using egg noodles. Add 1/2 cup ricotta and 2 beaten eggs with the parmesan. Add all of the reserved cooking water to make a loose sauce. Pour the pasta mixture into the skillet on top of the Canadian bacon. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Let rest, 5 minutes, then invert onto a plate.