As mere months old shareholders in our coop, we were delighted to see the notice posted in our lobby for a shareholder’s meeting, which included this postscript: Dinner Will Be Served. I mean…wow. It’s a smallish building, so I didn’t think the catering would cost that much, plus it seemed to be a good way to build building morale and a sense of neighborhood. And it was. It was a good way to get to know the building. And I think that is the right way of saying it: getting to know the building. Not so much the individual people in it, but character of the community. As one would expect from any building meeting, it was lively, sometimes frustrating, but very engaging. Most of the people there were there to listen, some came to talk, some to argue. But all of them came to eat. Since food at a meeting always brings a ‘watering hole effect’, I thought it was genius, to let people eat during the meeting. That way, all are fed and happy and too busy chewing to let any too heated arguments break out. Dessert was saved for the end to let everybody come together again and calm down after hearing about the ten ton of work the building needs money for.
Instead of the bog standard sandwich halves and wraps and the plate of cookies and maybe a ceasar salad bowl, there was soul food. Catered by a really good soul food buffet close by, where I have eaten many times. A dinner meeting with a point of view. Okay. Unfamiliar but very okay. so there was salad, but also mac and cheese, peach cobbler, barbeque chicken and fried chicken and other such goodies. I love the mac and cheese. I don’t know how they get it like that and I don’t want to know. All I know is, ever since then I get cravings for mac and cheese all the time. But I can’t eat it all the time or I’d die of a clogged artery.
Here’s a healthier version for the everyday, non-building-meeting meals.
Oh, also: if you don’t have a dishwasher and want to cut down on pots to wash, make the pasta ahead, cut 4 minutes from the cooking time (instead of the 3 min I recommend below) and when you drain them, run some cold water from the tap over the pasta for a second just enough to stop the cooking.
- 1 can of butternut squash puree (14 oz can, or make your own by roasting a peeled squash of sort and then pureeing it yourself. The amount is not critical, but have at least a cup)
- 1 cup chicken stock (from a bouillon cube, or a can or a box is fine.)
- 1 1/2 cups 2% milk
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 4 ounces finely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese(about 1 cup)
- 4 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 4 tablespoons Panko crumbs (these are japanese breadcrumbs that are already super crispy. Regular breadcrumbs would work as well, though I’d mix it with a few drops of olive oil to crisp in the oven)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot, combine squash, stock, and milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat. Sprinkle in the nutmeg, cayenne, season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat then stir in the cheeses, but hold back half the Parmesan. Mix till melted.
- Meanwhile, cook the macaroni according to package instruction but cook them about 3 minutes less than the box says (they’re going to get a lot more cooking in the oven) Drain but reserve some of the pasta water in case your mixture is too dry. Transfer pasta to the large pot with the squash mixture. Mix and meld.
- Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking dish (4 inches deep) with oil or butter. Transfer noodle mixture to dish. Combine breadcrumbs and remaining Parmesan; sprinkle evenly over noodle mixture.
- Bake until lightly browned and crisp on top, about 30 minutes.
This recipe uses so much less fat than traditional mac and cheese and that’s due to using less cheese and cream or milk. But the squash adds to much flavor and color you really won’t miss it. Still, it been known to happen that a few pieces of cut up bacon finds their way into the panko topping. ;-)