Seeing as how this is a mid-week post, you’ll forgive me if it is a little bit short. I was planning to save it for the weekend, but I looked back at my mac-and-cheese pictures, and I thought: how can I keep this to myself? How can I deprive you (dear readers!) of something this beautiful? This perfect?
If I sound full of myself, you’ll forgive me for that too. I don’t make macaroni and cheese very often, but I take an unreasonable amount of pride in my prowess at this delicate art. I am sure, in fact, that I have mentioned it here before. Because being prideful and all, I do tend to mention it as often as possible, even if only in passing.
The reason, of course, that I don’t actually make it that often, is that mac and cheese is extraordinarily bad for you. It is, after all, a little bit of pasta with a ton of dairy piled on top. But I believe, dear friends, that I have solved its nutritional deficiencies! To that pasta-and-dairy combo, I have added …
Yes, you guessed it: collard greens!
Okay. Maybe a handful of greens does not in fact take this American classic from fatty to wholesome. But it does — I’m telling you — improve it. You don’t ordinarily think of greens as a component of food that is clearly made for its comfort-value rather than its healthfulness. But it adds balance to what is otherwise a bit of a one-note dish. It cuts that ton-and-a-half of creaminess with just a touch of bitter tang.
You should take my word on this, I’m telling you. I, prideful as I am, didn’t think that my ordinary mac-and-cheese could be improved. But I was wrong. I suppose that I will continue, from time to time, to make it the old, veg-free way. But if I had my preference, I’d choose the dish with the greens, now — every time.
1 Package of Extruded Pasta (I used fusilli, for lack of macaroni in the house)
1 bunch of Kale or Collards
2.5 cups Milk
2.5 cups Shredded Cheddar
1.5 cups Shredded Mozzarella
.25 cups Parmesan Cheese (the good stuff. It matters in this recipe.)
3 tbsp Butter (+ some to grease the pan)
3 tbsp AP White Flour (heaping)
4 Cloves of Garlic, minced
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Preheat your oven to 400F. Start a big pot of salted water boiling for the pasta. Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking dish. Stem, chop, and wash your greens.
To make the sauce: in a 3-quart saucepan over low-medium heat, make a blonde roux with your butter and flour (melt the butter; then mix in the flour until you have a moist paste; then allow to cook, stirring regularly). Just as the roux is starting to go from pasty to golden, add the minced garlic, and cook for about two minutes, until the garlic starts to toast. Slowly add the milk, whisking vigorously. And continue to whisk until the mixture comes to a boil, the roux dissolves, and the sauce thickens.
Once the sauce has thickened, add one cup each of the shredded cheddar and mozzarella, as well as half the Parmesan cheese, the cayenne, black pepper, and a little bit of salt (you can always add more salt later, once you’ve tasted it), and continue to whisk until the cheese has melted and you have an even consistency. Then turn the burner as low as it will go, and allow the sauce to simmer, stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t develop a skin.
Meanwhile, when the water boils — preferably sometime around the point when the cheese goes into the sauce — pour in your package of pasta and cook until is is about 3/4 of the way done — 7-8 minutes.
Drain the semi-cooked pasta, and pour it into your greased baking dish. Add the chopped greens, and mix thoroughly. Then pour on the sauce, and mix thoroughly again. Spread the sauced pasta so that it sits evenly in the baking dish, then top with the remainder of the cheddar, mozzarella, and Parmesan.
Bake for 40-50 minutes (depending on how crusty you like the top). You can serve this immediately, or you can save and reheat as needed. Reheated in the oven, it is as good as leftovers as it is the first night.