During the months I lived with my grandparents, one of the things I missed most about independence was cooking. In college I cooked a lot—usually for dinner parties, often involving the boy I had a crush on at the time, because surely all a 19-year-old boy wants is a woman who can make corn chowder. Cooking became less of a priority as I entered grad school and then the working world; then with my grandparents fixing virtually all of my meals, motivation was non-existent.
I moved into my apartment on the first Wednesday in August. By Saturday I was mostly unpacked with a stocked kitchen. I called my mother that night, exuberant after the first meal cooked in my new home.
The cooking has become standard (and, OK, the self-congratulatory phone calls aren’t unusual, either). Yes, I’ve always got leftovers, but I usually cook—really cook—a few nights a week. Fridays have become my big meal. It’s cathartic.
So my resolution this year was to begin developing a stable of go-to recipes, an idea one of my favorite food writers once mentioned. I want a handful of trustworthy dishes I can create from memory in my kitchen or someone else’s. That grouping should include some comfort foods, but also a little something to trot out for parties or special occasions, and dishes I can easily make after work.
I’ve been so busy over the past two weeks that I literally hadn’t done more than brown beef for nachos. Last night I finally got back in the kitchen to make macaroni and cheese for community group while juggling phone calls with two of my very closest friends. It wasn’t my usual cooking method, and I’m not ready to add this recipe to my list just yet. But creating it and then sharing it while deep in conversation with friends was as comforting as the dish itself.
Venetian “Mac and Cheese”
from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis
Although it’s not a true—blue, all—American macaroni and cheese because it’s made with wide egg noodles rather than the more traditional elbow macaroni or small shell pasta, this is probably the version I make most often. It’s a dish I fell in love with when I first had it years ago at Harry’s Bar in Venice. Later I re-created it at home as the ultimate comfort food and also to bring back memories of Venice.
Butter for the pan
12 ounces wide egg noodles
2½ cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups (packed) grated fontina cheese
¾ cup (packed) finely grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup (packed) grated mozzarella cheese
4 ounces cooked boiled ham, diced (optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley Preheat the oven to 450°F. Butter a 9 x 13 x 2-inch glass baking dish. Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Drain well (do not rinse). Whisk the milk, cream, flour, salt, and pepper in a large bowl to blend. Stir in 1 cup of the fontina, ½ cup of the Parmesan, ½ cup of the mozzarella, the ham, and parsley. Add the noodles and toss to coat. Transfer the noodle mixture to the prepared baking dish. Combine the remaining 1 cup of fontina, ¼ cup of Parmesan, and ¼ cup of mozzarella in a small bowl and toss to blend. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the noodle mixture. Bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheese melts and begins to brown on top, about 15 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Serve warm.
(I think it needs something a little extra—or perhaps that’s just because I always sub in whatever cheese I have on hand. I may be cheating it. Also worth noting: I think this dish is better the day after. I love it for lunch at work!)