It happens. The weather turns that great half-chilly undercurrent to what looks like, on the outside, a still-warm summer day, and everyone gets that edgy, invigorated feeling that comes with a change in the seasons. So it's fall again. And that makes me yearn for carbos and cheese and red wine... for macaroni and cheese, in fact. My macaroni and cheese (and I say this with all due modesty) is absolutely killer, as I'm convinced everyone's macaroni and cheese, as long as it's made with love, is, too.
However. My macaroni and cheese, like most classic versions of the dish, is a tiny bit of a palaver, involving a béchamel sauce, carefully added Dijon mustard, cream dolloped in an ivory mass at the last minute, paprika'd top... long bake to get it all crusty and golden brown on the edges. Delicious. But, like I said, a palaver.
Some days I like a palaver, and some days I just want to keep stacking wood for the winter in the late afternoon, and then follow Alex up to the back meadow to catch the last little bit of autumn day sun in the one spot it hits there, with my glass of red wine and his glass of beer. Some days, is what I'm trying to say, I want macaroni and cheese. But I don't want to make macaroni and cheese.
I'm sure you all know what I'm saying here. I'm sure everyone here has a lot of days where you just don't feel like spending more than a half-hour in the kitchen. And yet — and yet — and yet — you still want to feel like an adult who has treated her/himself properly at the dinner hour. Properly, in this case, being something involving cheddar.
So my solution is An Adult Version of Macaroni and Cheese for a busy Autumn Day.
Very elegant. Very easy. Very good with a glass or two of red wine to celebrate the change in the weather.
Like this (for 2 people; for 4 just double):
Boil a big pot of water.
While it boils, make a tomato salad.
In this case, a tomato/roasted pepper/marjoram/basil/parsley salad is nice. Diced tomatoes, chopped roasted peppers (you may recall I have them in the fridge from yesterday), a minced green onion, torn basil leaves (that's the end of it for this year's garden, I'm afraid), minced marjoram, and parsley, as much as you like. A little salt and balsamic vinegar. Toss and let sit.
Now the water's probably come to a boil.
Add a 1/2-pound of a nice stubby pasta, like ziti or rotelle or penne rigate, to cook till al dente.
While that's going on, grate about a heaping cup of a nice, sharp cheddar. (This can be any kind of cheese, obviously, and I think gruyere would be just terrific. But this particular fall night I wanted cheddar. I mentioned that, didn't I? Definitely cheddar.) Have some butter on hand, and a little sour cream. Also an open bottle of white wine. And a bottle of some nice hot sauce; Tabasco will do, or any Louisiana brand.
When the pasta's done, drain it, not making too big a deal out of shaking it dry, and put it back in the pot on the stove — which should make it stay nice and warm and help you with this next step of making the sauce.
Which is the magic result of just tossing the pasta in the pot with a dollop of butter, about two tablespoons, about the same amount of sour cream, and the cheddar. Watch it all clump; add a sloosh of the white wine to thin it, along with a shake or two of the hot sauce. Keep tossing till it all relaxes into an unclumped sauce that coats the pasta beautifully. Add a little salt if you think it needs it.
Serve immediately on plates where it shares the space, half and half, with the salad. You want to be able to spoon the salad at will over and into the pasta. That's half the pleasure of this dish. Which is a lot of pleasure for such a little bit of trouble.
The other half is how elegant it tastes... and how quickly it cooked... and how you got to eat macaroni and cheese without any macaroni and cheese palaver at all.
Enjoy your dinner and your glass of wine. As always, I hope, as always.
And after that, I'll see you tomorrow.