It’s July in the Tri-Cities, which means the heat has not let up. This would have been boat race weekend if not for everything in the world being canceled. In my just-two-weeks-short of 37 years since we moved here, I can only think of a bare handful of boat race weekends that weren’t hot, cloudless, with only the barest hint of a breeze.
It gets warm, is what I’m saying.
When it’s this toasty outside, mac & cheese may not seem as appealing. A few of the recent recipes have seemed a little heavy – they’ll be delightful again in December – but this week I was looking for something that would at least SEEM lighter.
I’ve been going through a lot of limes and a lot of mint this summer. I squeeze lime into my 7-UP, and I’ve made a watermelon/feta/mint salad with balsamic glaze that I copied from a local restaurant several times. My parents have a TON of mint growing off their front deck – if you’ve never grown it before, you might not know how it TAKES OVER wherever it is – and I’ve taken advantage of their open invitation to take what I need. I started to wonder how it would be in mac & cheese. Maybe with some lemon to brighten it up?
That may sound odd, but as it turns out, I’m not the first one to have that idea. Googling “lemon mint mac and cheese” brought up a bucketload of hits. The one I liked the best, at Food 52, turned out to have been adapted from my first and favorite mac and cheese cookbook, from the folks at Homeroom. Seemed like a good omen, so I went with it.
- 8 oz. elbow macaroni (see notes)
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 4 Tbsp. butter
- 3 Tbsp. flour
- 2 ½ cups whole milk
- 1 cup shredded Asiago cheese (see notes)
- 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
- 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves (plus more for optional garnish)
- 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley leaves (plus more for optional garnish)
- Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and cook pasta for 8 minutes.
- Add the peas to the pasta and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Drain peas and pasta and set aside.
- Melt butter over medium heat.
- Add flour and whisk for 2-3 minutes.
- Slowly pour in milk while whisking. Cook for 5-10 minutes until it begins to slightly thicken.
- Add the cheeses and stir until melted and sauce is smooth.
- Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, parsley, mint, and ½ teaspoon of salt and stir to combine.
- Add the pasta and peas and stir to coat evenly.
- Top with additional herbs if desired.
YUM! This may still BE as heavy as any other mac & cheese, but it TASTES light and fresh. The recipe is called “Spring Mac” in The Mac and Cheese Cookbook, and “Bright & Zesty Mac” on Food 52, and they’re both good descriptions. I called it Summertime Mac, because it’s very much NOT spring any more. (And also because Lemon Mint Asiago Jack White Cheddar Mac with Peas was kind of unwieldy.)
Taste wise, this is more like a 4.5, but there’s quite a bit more prep work that goes into it, more like a 3-3.5 on that side, so I averaged it out. If you’ve got time, it’s worth it, but it’s not the quickest, what with all the zesting of lemons and chopping of herbs and thawing of peas. (OK, that last one didn’t take any time, I took them out of the freezer and stuck them in the fridge and then went paddle boarding for a couple of hours, they were ready when I got home.) The cookbook only calls for lemon zest, but I’m glad I followed the website version and added lemon juice, I don’t think the zest would have been enough. In fact, I may end up squeezing a little more lemon on future servings. It’s got a nice hint as is, but it could “pop” more.
- I was a couple of ounces short in my open box of elbow noodles, so instead of opening another one and getting the measurements off again, I supplemented with 2 ounces of ditalini. Those were the little ones I used in the Mac Bites a few months ago. They look like the snipped-off ends of elbow noodles and I haven’t figured out another good use for the rest of the box, but they worked really well to fill in here.
- The cookbook called for asiago and jack cheese and the website called for asiago and white cheddar. I had all three, so I went for the full mix.
Posted July 26, 2020