Whenever my mother got out the pot to make her version of the “dirty” macaroni and cheese salad below, my sisters and I would go sit outside on our front steps and wait for my uncle to show up. He seemed to have a second sense as to when my mom was making his favorite salad.
Mac and cheese seems like just one of those dishes that’s just right to serve during the summer. Tasty, easy adaptable and fairly portable, dishes based on pasta and cheese are adult- and kid- friendly.
Crazy mac and cheese is my take on the boxed macaroni and cheeses my sons seemed to prefer to my carefully crafted, homemade versions full of stuff they declared “yucky.”
“Dirty” Macaroni and Cheese Salad
“Dirty” in the title of this recipe refers to using some of the olive brine in the salad. Substitute vegan cheese to make a parve version.
8 oz. dried elbow macaroni
1 Tbs. olive oil
1⁄3 cup mayonnaise
1⁄2 cup chopped green olives stuffed with pimentos, cut in 1⁄4-inch pieces
3 Tbs. brine (liquid) from olive jar
1⁄2 cup chopped green onion, white and light green parts only
1 cup chopped red bell pepper, cut in 1⁄4-inch cubes
3 oz. orange-colored sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1⁄4-inch cubes (about a heaping 1⁄2 cup)
1⁄2 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain. Toss in oil. Let cool. Stir in all other ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.
Crazy Mac and Cheese
Baking the mac ‘n’ cheese melds the flavors and makes the squash and cheese combination work. Make your own winter squash purée, or find it frozen or as jarred baby food in the supermarket.
8 oz. dried elbow or shell macaroni
3 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. flour
11⁄2 cups skim, reduced-fat or whole milk, plus additional if needed
4 oz. orange-colored sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 slices of American cheese, chopped
1⁄2 tsp. paprika
1⁄2 tsp. ground black pepper
1⁄2 tsp. dry ground mustard
1⁄2 to 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 cup cooked winter squash purée (such as butternut or acorn)
vegetable sprinkles (optional, see below)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 8-by-8 baking dish or casserole and set aside.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.
Melt butter in saucepan over low heat, and whisk in flour until well combined. Pour in milk, whisking as you pour, until well combined. Raise heat to medium. Stirring or whisking often, cook until liquid thickens to about half. Add in cheeses, stirring until melted. Stir in paprika, pepper, mustard and 1⁄2 tsp. salt. Mix in purée and stir until combined. Add more milk if needed to keep mixture creamy. Taste and add more salt if needed and correct other seasonings. Mix sauce with cooked pasta. Place in greased baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes until sauce is bubbling and top is just starting to brown. Serve with vegetable sprinkles if desired.
Vegetable sprinkles: Finely chop raw red and yellow bell peppers, carrots, celery, or other vegetables your family likes. Let kids and others sprinkle atop their servings.
Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs her food at www.clickblogappetit.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.