Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Greek Mac and Cheese
We both love Greek food. Feta cheese is one of our favorites. And, as with most Americans, we consider mac and cheese comfort food. The blue box is the basis for our favorite quick meal - Glop. And, I've got a few recipes for amazing pasta and cheese dishes. Yet, we rarely fix mac and cheese in any form because it's so darned filled with fat. When I found this recipe in The Best American Recipes, 2002-2003, I was attracted by the fact it used feta and milk. There was a huge lack of BUTTER and not much olive oil. So, on the menu it went.
I assembled all the ingredients and started fixing the dish. One of the first things you do is make a slurry with the feta and the milk. Well, friends, let me tell you I almost gave up right then and there. That slurry looked awful. I had visions of grainy, chunky mac and cheese. But, since the pasta was already cooked and the spinach was wilted, I forged on. The dish went together so easily. Loved that part. Then into the oven.
The timer went off and still the dish sat in the oven. I turned the oven off but was trying to keep the mac and cheese warm. You see, the meatloaf burgers just weren't cooking. Turns out the grill was out of gas. Once we got them in on the grill pan, dinner got back on track. But, we were about 20 minutes past due on the mac and cheese. Guess what? It was still fantastic. One of the best mac and cheese dishes I've ever had. We both gave it a five out of five the first night AND the next two times we had it leftover. Amazing.
This could easily be upgraded to an entree with the addition of some cubed lamb (pre-cooked) or even some chicken chunks (pre-cooked, again.) It's also one of those recipes you can probably add lots of interesting things to: roasted red bell peppers, oil-packed sun dried tomatoes...
Greek Mac and Cheese
1 pound macaroni
1/2 lb baby spinach, rinsed
1 1/2 c feta cheese, crumbled
2 1/3 c milk (don't use skim, we used 2% and it was fine)
2/3 c olive oil
2 T fresh lemon juice
2 t freshly ground pepper
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 c coarsely chopped kalamata olives
1 T minced garlic
2 t minced fresh thyme
3/4 t minced fresh rosemary
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 mixed chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme and parsley)
Cook and drain the pasta. Set it aside.
Blanch the spinach in boiling water for about 15 seconds. Remove it from the saucepan with a slotted spoon and put it in a bowl of ice water. Once it's cooled, drain it and squeeze the moisture out.
Now, it's time to make the slurry. It'll look awful. Don't despair, this will taste wonderful. In the bowl of a food processor, you combine the feta, milk, olive oil, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of salt and the freshly ground pepper. Don't puree it til it's smooth. You want it a little chunky.
In a large bowl (I cheated and used the baking dish,) mix the drained pasta, the milk/feta slurry,
the spinach, tomatoes, olives, rosemary, thyme, garlic and crushed red pepper. Pour this mixture into a greased 9x13 pan.
Top it with the mixed herbs and the Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.