A week or so ago I asked my husband if he had any special requests for upcoming dinners. Sensing a trap (I think), he assured me that he loved everything I made, etc., etc. I pressed a little, and he said, “Well…maybe mac and cheese? Or chicken fingers!” I guess no matter how old and grown-up and responsible you get, a little part of you never stops craving food off the kiddie menu.
Prior to college, I had exactly one concept of mac and cheese – elbow macaroni mixed on the stovetop with milk, cut-up Velveeta cheese, and usually some spice blend called “hot shot pepper” or “extreme mouth on fire pepper!” or something along those lines. That’s how my parents make it, and while it was never my favorite meal growing up, it was definitely tasty. In college I was introduced to the dual rites of passage known as Kraft Cheese & Macaroni and Easy Mac, meaning that there were then two ways to make mac and cheese – on the stovetop and in the microwave.
It was not too long ago that I realized there was an exciting third option for mac and cheese: you can bake it. In the oven. With delicious bread crumbs and butter and gooey deliciousness. When my husband requested mac and cheese, I knew I wanted to give this game-changing third option a try.
SHRIMP, FETA, AND HERB MAC AND CHEESE (recipe from Annie’s Eats)
1 pound pasta (farfalle, rotini, etc.)
1 pound raw shrimp (30-40) shrimp, peeled and deveined
10 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
zest of one lemon, divided
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 tbsp fresh parsley, divided
5 tbsp butter, divided
4 tbsp flour
3 cups milk
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
salt and pepper to taste
- Cook pasta until al dente according to the package directions. Drain well and set aside. Add raw shrimp to warm pasta and toss together (the heat from the pasta will partially cook the shrimp).
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400. In small bowl, combine a handful of the feta, a pinch of the lemon zest, panko, 2 teaspoons of the parsley and 1 tablespoon of the butter, melted. Toss with a fork to combine; set aside.
- In medium saucepan, melt remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Once butter is melted, whisk in flour to form a paste. Cook 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly, until light golden brown. Whisk in milk. Continue to heat the mixture, stirring frequently, until it bubbles and thickens, 5-10 minutes. As soon as sauce has thickened, remove from heat and stir in remaining feta, Gruyere, remaining parsley, remaining lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper. Pour mixture over pasta and shrimp, tossing well to coat.
- Transfer mixture to lightly greased 2½ or 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle breadcrumb-feta mixture evenly over top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling. Let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.
Third option: success! This was a much more grown-up mac and cheese with subtler and more complex flavors. It doesn’t knock you upside the head with cheesiness; it’s more of a cheese-infused cream sauce. Even though we liked it a lot, I think I’d make a couple of changes to make it even better next time. First, I wouldn’t forget the salt and pepper (duh!). Second, I’d only use about half a lemon’s worth of lemon zest, as the lemon was a little stronger in this than I was expecting. Third, I’d make sure to use all-purpose flour in this – I only had whole wheat flour so that’s what I used. Finally, I think I’d like to try it with rotini pasta rather than farfalle, because I think it’d soak up the sauce even more.