|Can you guess the secret ingredient in this Crazy Mac and Cheese?
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 would be making his favorite salad.
Tasty and easy adaptable, dishes based on pasta and cheese are adult and kid friendly for a meatless Monday or any day, even National Vegetarian Day (Monday, October 1 this year).
Crazy Mac and Cheese is my take on the boxed macaroni and cheeses my sons seemed to prefer to my carefully crafted home-made versions full of stuff they declared “yucky.” It has lots of cheese, a smooth texture, the requisite orange color and includes a few surprises.
I used a creamy Israeli sheep’s milk feta in the Pasta with Olive Oil, Feta Cheese, Olives and Herbs but any feta would work well in the recipe.
See the recipes for options for making these recipes vegan.
“Dirty” Macaroni and Cheese SaladServes 8
Dirty in the title of this recipe refers to using some of the olive brine in the salad. Substitute vegan cheese and mayonnaise to make a vegan version of this salad. I recommend Daiya brand cheddar shreds or wedges (cut in cubes) and like both Earth Balance and Vegenaise brand vegan mayonnaise.
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” 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” cubes
3 oz. orange-colored sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4” 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 CheeseServes 4-6
Baking the mac and cheese melds the flavors and makes the squash and cheese combination work. Make your own winter squash puree or find it frozen or as jarred baby food in the supermarket. I haven't tried it, but there is no reason a vegan version with vegan margarine, soy milk and vegan cheeses wouldn't work. (FYI - I like Earth Balance original spread, Trader Joe's unflavored and unsweetened soy milk and Daiya vegan cheddar shreds. I don't have a preferred brand of vegan American cheese since I use it so rarely. If you have one you like, leave a comment below and share.)
Oil Spray8 oz. dried elbow or shell macaroni
3 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. flour
1 and1/2 cup 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
½ to 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 cup cooked winter squash puree (such as butternut or acorn)
Vegetable Sprinkles (optional, see below)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 8” x8” baking dish or casserole and set aside.Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.
Melt butter in sauce pan over low heat, 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 ½ tsp. salt. Mix in puree 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.
Pasta with Olive Oil, Feta Cheese, Olives and HerbsServes 6-8
I don't have a good feta substitute for a vegan version, but I'm thinking some Daiya wedge jack cheese cut into cubes might work. Or try pressing the mositure out of some firm tofu and cutting into cubes and use those. Skip the Parmesan cheese and substitute a sprinkle of nutritional yeast on top when serving if desired.
1 lb. dried pasta such as penne or rigatoni3 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 cups drained and crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 oz. drained, pitted Kalmata olives, cut into quarters
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Boil pasta until just tender. Drain. While still warm, mix with olive oil in large bowl. Add in cheeses, olives, parsley, mint, and pepper. Toss well. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.
For another mac and cheese recipe and more fond memories on Blog Appetit click here.