I firmly believe that mac and cheese is a year-round food. However, in the summers, I find the roux-based, cheese sauce-style to be heavy, and a kind of rich that I can’t sustain in the hot weather. It gives me the cheese sweats, and it ain’t cute. In an effort to focus on the light, bright flavors of summer while scratching the itch for comforting cheese coated pasta, I developed this simple recipe: Summer’s mac and cheese.
Instead of making a roux, or another multi-step mac and cheese that gets baked in the oven, this recipe’s main ingredient is simplicity. It’s all stovetop, and (in an even more summer-friendly move) once the pasta is boiled, the heat stays off. The “sauce” is tart, rich, salty, floral, and herbaceous. It seems strange being able to describe something as simple and yet it carries all of those flavors, but it’s true. Made from only lemon, ricotta, and basil, this summer-y sauce is simultaneously built and tossed with the pasta, coming together in seconds.
These are some of the tools that I used to make this dish:
Table of Contents
I used spaghetti rigati because I’m partial to the long, stringy variety for this, but you could really use any pasta shape. Boil the pasta in salty water as per the package directions, or as you normally would. There is very little carry-over cooking after you finish boiling the pasta so don’t leave it al dente unless you actually like to eat it with that firmness. Drain the pasta but keep about two tablespoons of the pasta water in the pot.
Add half a lemon’s zest and juice to the pot with the pasta and its water. Add a few leaves of chopped (or chiffonade) basil, salt, and ricotta cheese. Toss. The lemon juice and pasta water will loosen up the ricotta cheese into a rich and tangy, light but clingy sauce, and the lemon zest and basil fill the dish with bright aromatics. Each bite is like a sun-kissed day in the park, but it’s macaroni, and you don’t need a nap afterward.
This recipe makes two servings, or one very happy person. Plate and serve without delay.
Summer’s Mac & Cheese
- 4 ounces spaghetti rigati
- ½ lemon’s zest (about 2 teaspoons)
- ½ lemon’s juice (about 2 teaspoons)
- 4-8 leaves of basil, light chop or chiffonade
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
In a medium pot, boil the pasta according to package directions, or as you normally would. Drain the pasta, but leave about 2 tablespoons of the pasta water in the pot. Add the lemon zest and juice, chopped basil, salt, and ricotta cheese. Toss until most of the ricotta has loosened up (but a few clumps of the softened cheese would be lovely), plate, and serve.