Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dress Up an Old Favorite - Bowties & Mizithra

Between the love of melted cheese and the recession-motivated mania for thrifty cooking, it should come as no surprise that macaroni and cheese recipes are springing up everywhere. Some are casseroles incorporating up to one pound of cheddar; others try to dress up the dish in a more straightforward, folksy way with potato chips and bacon. Ever since I realized Fettuccine Alfredo was just another version of macaroni and cheese (different noodle, Parmesan instead of cheddar), I've been interested in how far I could push this. The real revelation for me was a recipe for bleu cheese and rotini. Make a buttery, creamy sauce. Mix with pasta. Add crumbled bleu cheese and viola! The opportunities are limitless.

Today's version incorporates a Greek cheese that is less familiar, but inexpensive and a favorite pasta shape -- farfalle (bow ties) with basil. Mizithra is not a cracker-ready cheese. Too firm for spreading, too dry for easy slicing, this nutty sheep's milk cheese is typically part of a meze (appetizer) with olives or is also served with browned butter and pasta. I decided to see if I could incorporate it in my pantheon of macaroni and cheese recipes.

Mizithra and Bow ties
(for 2 servings)

1/2 Pound Farfalle (Bow tie) Pasta
2/3 Cup grated Mizithra
2 Tablespoons of grated Parmesan
3 Tablespoon Butter
3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped Basil (or 1/4 dry)
Generous dash of Cayenne Pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Cook Bow ties in 2 Qt of rapidly boiling water with 2 Tablespoons of salt, about 11 minutes. Yes, I said 2 Tablespoons of salt.
  2. While the Bow ties cook, melt the butter over very low heat in a 12 inch saute pan with tall sides.
  3. Before straining the pasta, set aside 1/2 C. of the salty, starchy pasta water.
  4. Strain the pasta, and empty into the saute pan with the melted butter.
  5. Add the Heavy Cream to the saute pan. Turn the heat to medium high and gently stir.
  6. Add the Basil, Cayenne, and Salt and Pepper.
  7. Continue stirring until the sauce thickens and there is very little liquid in the bottom of the pan. Add the Mizithra and Parmesan.
  8. The sauce will probably become quite gloppy. Slowly add the reserved pasta water until smooth. Serve immediately.
Variant: Oregano in addition to or instead of basil.

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