Friday, July 30, 2010

Armenian Baked Macaroni and Cheese (Poohree Macaron)

As you may have noticed from some past posts, I love macaroni and cheese. One of my most personally comforting variations is the version my family usually makes, the Armenian one which you cut into squares and serve.

The top and edges get all crunchy between the crispy noodles and the bread crumbs, while the noodles beneath are perfectly al dente, flavored simply with Feta cheese and herbs, and bound together with the addition of eggs.  Because this macaroni and cheese is on the firmer size, you can easily cut the squares and then freeze them in a freezer bag for easy reheating at a later time. Delicious!

I'd like to take a minute to also discuss Feta cheese.  In its ever-growing popularity, I think most Americans have eaten Feta cheese at one time or another.  What some of you may not realize is that there are other kinds out there other than those labeled "Greek."  While the Greeks made Feta famous, I personally don't care much for Greek Feta cheese, and here's why...

Greek Feta is generally pretty dry and salty.  If that's all you've ever had, then it's probably the only flavor you associate with Feta cheese, but there are other Feta cheeses out there!  My second favorite Feta is Bulgarian Feta.  It's slightly softer than the Greek version (better mouth feel), still a bit crumbly but not as dry.  It also has a somewhat briny, tart, and almost rancid taste.  I know that sounds like a turnoff, but trust me, it's not.

Inside piece... crusty edge piece!

My absolute favorite Feta is also probably the most fattening (I've never bothered to actually check because I'm afraid of what I may find). It's French Feta, smooth and creamy.  It too shares that briny, tart flavor profile, not the dry salty heap of cheese that is Greek Feta (sorry I'm biased).

If I could singularly eat French Feta as my Feta cheese of choice I would, but not only is it more fattening (as much as I chose to believe it isn't), it also costs more, which is why the Bulgarian variety is usually our go-to choice.

For this recipe, you can use whatever feta you prefer. The drier Greek-style will grate more easily, but you may get a bit more richness and flavor from one of the other kinds. Either way, this is one of my absolute favorite comfort foods, and it's so easy to make. No need to make a white sauce like most other macaroni and cheese. Just mix everything together and bake. It's really that easy!

*10/4/15* Post, recipe, and photos updated.

Armenian Baked Macaroni and Cheese (Poohree Macaron)
Makes 6 to 8 servings

12 ounces wide egg noodles
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces Feta cheese, grated
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 1/2 cups milk
1 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F.  Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish or pan with pan spray or butter (alternatively you can use a slightly smaller pan if you want the pieces to be a bit taller).  Dust the bottom of the pan with 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs to evenly coat.

To a pot of boiling, salted water, add the noodles and cook for about 6 minutes, or until al dente.

Drain in a colander and then return to the pot, off the heat.  Add the butter and stir until melted.  Mix in the Feta cheese, beaten eggs, parsley, milk and some salt and pepper to taste (do not over-salt as the cheese is quite salty).

Pour the noodles into the prepared baking dish.  Use the back of a spoon to lightly spread and even out the noodles in the dish so they are fairly even.

Add the olive oil to the remaining 3/4 cup bread crumbs and lightly toss with your fingers.  Generously spread the bread crumbs over the top of the noodles (alternatively you may sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top and use pan spray to lightly grease them, though I find that to be a messy option with crumbs spraying everywhere).

Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes minutes, or until the pasta has set up nicely and the bread crumbs are light golden.  Turn on the broiler and broil for a couple minutes to toast the bread crumbs further, so they are a dark golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before cutting into pieces and serving (you can get 12 larger pieces or 24 smaller pieces).  If making this dish ahead, let it cool completely before cutting it into pieces, and then reheat for service (it will cut more easily when cold).


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