Monday, May 2, 2011

UnRecipe: Retro Baked Noodles and Cheese, if You Please

No, no, no, it's not "macaroni and cheese," these are baked noodle casseroles... which also happen to have some cheese mixed in with them. What's the distinction? I have no idea, except to say that it's a retro noodle bake done two tasty ways: bacon with peas, and an apple with caramelized onions.

As American as baked noodle and apple casserole/pie - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I do enjoy "noodling" around with elbow macaroni. (har har har) It's such a down-home, Sunday supper pasta shape, isn't it? It's got the benefit of cooking relatively quickly and can pretty much go with any sauce, whether it's thick and hearty or a light vinagrette for a cold pasta salad. It definitely has an unfancy air about it; you won't see anyone waxing poetic over its gourmet artisanal quality, but sometimes it's okay to just fall back on an old retro staple. Besides, they kind of look like smiley-faces. Happy food for happy people!

Vintage-inspired - I hope Don Draper would approve! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Do you remember Hamburger Helper's version of beef stroganoff? More importantly, is it terrible that I dare mention it with such familiarity? While I won't rally around making meals from a box full of mysterious flavor packets, I still like the combination of a shorthand version of beef stroganoff with a side of noodles. It feels like such a 1950s sort of dish that might have appeared on a table in an episode of Mad Men, right before Roger Sterling gets jiggy with another girl in the secretary pool. Plus, the little clown-faced glove character on the Hamburger Helper box has a pleasant nostalgia about him too, despite wondering where the rest of his phantom parts are. I used the power of UnRecipe to make a baked noodle dish consisting of cooked elbow macaroni tossed with cottage cheese, frozen peas, a little bit of milk to keep it from drying out, and a sprinkle of crisped bacon and panko crumbs on top for a crust. Total icebox scrounge-a-thon. On the stove, I made a poor man's beef stroganoff, making little meatballs from ground beef and browning them with some quartered mushrooms and making a sauce from the pan drippings, some chicken broth and a splash of sherry. Definitely not as meal-from-a-box easy as old school Hamburger Helper, but it sort of has the look of a retro meal, doesn't it?

Caramelized onion and apple noodle casserole -- good on its own or as a side dish - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Less retro, but just as UnRecipe-easy is an apple and caramelized onion version of a baked noodle casserole. I love the combination of savory-sweet using apples and onions, as they go really well together when they're cooked down enough to let the flavors develop.The most effort is constantly stirring the sliced onions in a pan until they're perfectly browned and naturally sweetened with the low, slow heat, and then you toss in one or two finely chopped apples and let them cook down until most of their liquid is released. This is tossed with the same mix of cooked elbow macaroni, some milk, and cottage cheese before baking in the oven with a panko bread crumb topping. The finished flavor was very light; I'd consider adding a bit of cheddar to deepen the flavor, but you could taste the sweetness of the onions and apples, and it made for a dandy side dish when served with chicken simmered with tomatoes and mushrooms.

Why cottage cheese in both these recipes? Aside from the fact that we always have some in our fridge, I saw several old noodle casserole recipes that used it, versus making a traditional bechamel sauce. Granted, I think a creamy, melty cheesy sauce would yield a more rich outcome, but I was curious to try using the cottage cheese as it felt like a fitting shortcut to go with the retro elbow pasta. Overall, I was pleased with the result, as it adds a little richness, but not as much fat, if you're looking for a way to use cheese without indulging too much on heavy ingredients.

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1 comment:

  1. Tasty noodley goodness! It's cold and rainy/snowy in Minnesota- which doesn't make it feel anything like spring. This comfort food is exactly what we need around here!


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