This is a basic pasta with cheese sauce, in the spirit of “macaroni and cheese,” but with lots of vegetables added.
Traditionally speaking, this is a variation on a “mornay” sauce, or a bechamel sauce with cheese. The most notable variation is the inclusion of vegetables cooked in the butter before the flour is added.
The below proportions include a lot of sauce; if you like your pasta dishes lighter you could reduce the sauce proportions by as much as one-half.
Makes six hearty servings.
Onions, one large or two medium
Bell Peppers, one or two
Optionally, other vegetables, like a large mushroom, a big carrot, etc.
Chop vegetables, medium to coarse
Sauce pan, or equivalent medium to large pot
Put pan on stovetop on medium heat.
Butter, two sticks (1 cup)
Add the butter to pan and wait for it to melt.
Add chopped onions and peppers.
Cook for around ten minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the onions and peppers have turned soft.
At this point the onions should be at least partially transparent, and should taste sweet and mild, rather than raw and bitter.
Garlic, from several cloves to half a head.
Peel and mince or finely slice the garlic.
Seasonings: Basil (1 Tbs), Paprika (1 tsp), tumeric (1/2 tsp), salt (1/2 tsp), black pepper (1/4 tsp)
Add minced garlic and seasonings to the pan. Cook for a minute or two, stirring often.
This is about the right time to put the pasta water on to boil.
Flour, 1 cup, white or whole wheat
Sprinkle flour into saucepan a bit at a time, mixing each batch in thoroughly so it’s all absorbed before adding more.
Cook for several minutes, stirring frequently, to allow the butter to brown.
Cooking the combined butter and flour mixture, or “roux,” should bring out a bit of a “nutty” taste and prevent it from being “pasty.” Resist the temptation to move on to the next step too quickly — better to turn the heat down and really give this some time to cook through thoroughly.
Pasta, dried or fresh, from 1 to 2 pounds
I like to use small shapes, like elbows, shells, spirals, or radiators.
Optionally, when the pasta is basically done, throw in a batch of frozen peas and give them thirty seconds in the boiling water to thaw through.
Milk, around 3-4 cups
Pour into saucepan a bit at a time, mixing each batch in thoroughly so it’s all absorbed before adding more.
The mixture will “sieze up,” or thicken suddenly as the first batches of milk are added, and then become progressively more liquid; you can make a thicker or thinner sauce by adjusting the amount of milk you add.
Cheddar or similar cheese, 1-2 cups, around 1 pound
Optionally, add/substitute 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
Optionally, add/substitute 1/2 cup Goat Cheese
Grate the cheese coarsely and add it to the saucepan.
Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cheese is melted and mixed throughout the sauce.
If sauce begins to stick to the bottom, turn the heat down a bit, and stir more vigorously.
Taste and adjust seasonings. Does it need some extra cheese? Salt and pepper?
Add to cooked, drained pasta and toss.
Optionally, bake it (“gratinee”):
Preheat oven to medium (around 350)
Oven-safe casserole pan
Pour pasta and sauce into pan and scatter grated parmesan and/or breadcrumbs over the top.
Cook in oven for around 20 minutes, until top is crisp and lightly browned.