Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! Après sled baked pasta

I've had some offline feedback about the Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! series. I already know I have a long way to go in improving my photography skills. It's hard to take good pictures of what we're doing when there is no natural light and I'm in the middle of food prep with only a few seconds here and there to grab my iPhone for the in-progres shots. We'll do more family cooking nights on weekends and I should be able to get better pictures then. For this week, I've added "pros," "cons" and "next time" after the recipe, as much for my own use as anything. I would love to know what you think of all this, so leave a comment. Be honest, let me know!

It is finally March! Soon we will change our clocks and the slow thaw will begin, the maple sap will flow, we will plan our gardens and start our seedlings and retire our snow pants for the season. Soon, but not quite yet. It may be the month of the spring equinox, but we are in Wisconsin and winter is clinging desperately by the fingernails. We got a few more inches of snow today and there are a couple more subzero mornings ahead of us this week.  And so, we've been cramming in as much sledding as we possibly can, on the weekend afternoons, and after school.

Daniel's feet right before an epic wipeout.

Today, after a vigorous hour of sledding after school, the kids came home and guzzled some hot cocoa before starting in on this week's Tuesday Night Fun Cooking! baked pasta with lots of cheese. It was perfect for those après sledding appetites.

(Full recipe, as always, at the bottom of the post. There is a lot of cheese and butter and milk in it, and not a whole lot that is nutritionally redemptive. My apologies to the lactose-intolerant and carb-conscious among you.)

First task was to choose the pasta: elbows or tubetti? A quick round of Rock Paper Scissors solved that dilemma (Daniel, and the tubetti, won).

Next there was some measuring of ingredients and preparing the baking dish.

I can think of better ways to hold that milk jug.

Working together to grease the pan
Next we got a big pot of water heating up for the pasta and made a roux, a white sauce that served as a base for the cheesy part of the dish.

Making a roux requires several minutes of stirring and whisking butter, flour and milk in a saucepan.

They started off enthusiastically enough...

...but eventually, Daniel got The Ennui and I agreed to take over.

While I whisked the roux, the kids sliced a couple of hot dogs. Yes, we made a fancy French white sauce with three kinds of cheese for our pasta and then added sliced hot dogs to the top of it. We are classy that way.

Adding the cheese was fun.

Snitching leftover cheese was even more fun!

Cheesy baked pasta with fresh salad!
Baked pasta with cheese (loosely based on a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma Vegetarian cookbook)

  • 1 lb small pasta noodles like elbow macaroni or tubetti or penne
  • 6 T butter (yup, you read that right)
  • 6 T flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 4 cups shredded cheese, at least three varieties including 1 cup Parmesan; we also used cheddar and marble, but something like gorgonzola or fontina would be good for the sophisticated palate
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sliced hot dogs, if that's how you roll, but these are optional. Obviously, since this recipe was originally from a vegetarian cookbook, the hot dogs were our idea. 
Grease a large baking dish or 9x13 pan and heat oven to 375.
Cook the noodles al dente according to the instructions on the package.
Around the time you dump your noodles into the boiling water, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. 
Add the flour and whisk for 2 minutes or until it is slightly browned but not burnt. 
Slowly pour in the milk and continue to whisk for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble.
Add some salt (maybe 1 tsp?) and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Stir in the shredded cheese and remove from heat.
Combine the noodles and cheese sauce in the baking dish and top with hot dogs if you wish. Another good option is bread crumbs.
Bake about 30 minutes or until the top gets a little brown and bubbly. 

Pros: Delicious, easy, and not all that time-consuming. The half hour in the oven was perfect for cleaning up and preparing a side salad. 
Cons: Not the most nutritionally sound main dish, since it was basically all empty carbs and dairy. And hot dogs. Oh well. The salad made up for that...right?
Next time: It would be so much fun to bake this in individual ceramic bowls or ramekins, don't you think? (Too bad we don't have any.) That way you could customize the topping: sliced hot dog, bread crumbs, hot pepper flakes, fresh herbs...


Anonymous said…

"I can think of better ways to hold that milk jug." Yes, so can I. But he is not my kid and it is not my kitchen.

Two people using the one cutting board is probably not the best idea. I read that somewhere. Probably is a "Scout" cookbook. Sharp knives and slipping boards do not make a good combination. Especially when accompanied by two children whose ages are in the single digits.

Speaking of slipping boards. A wet (well wrung out) cloth under the board does wonders keeping it from slipping. And I just read where someone put four washers used with garden hoses under the corners of the board; but, she was probably not using an Epicurean like you which is flexible and bouncy when not totally flat on the table. (My Epicurean has rubber feet at the corners, and even though the clearance is small, it does bounce when whacking something. Hmm. I wonder if a couple of garden hose washers toward the center would help, or would they be too tall.)

Sure the salad makes up for it. After all, Ronald Reagan's administration tried to classify ketchup as a vegetable in school lunch programs.

Keep cooking.

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