Dinner for 1

Baked Pasta and Cheese for One

One of the benefits of being on your own for dinner is that you can have whatever you want. If that’s a bowl of popcorn, fine. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s, fine. Sometimes, that’s just what I want.

One of the benefits of being on your own for dinner is that you can have whatever you want

But I find eating alone is a welcome opportunity to cook and indulge in one of my favorite comfort foods: mac ‘n’ cheese. I usually have all the ingredients on hand–some kind of small pasta, a variety of cheeses, and milk. To that you can add anything else you like; I like mushrooms this time of year. Sausage is good, too, as is spinach. But most recipes are for four or more people, so I created this version, which is just enough for one.

Baked Pasta and Cheese for One

You can add anything to the mix, but I enjoy the way the earthy mushrooms mesh with the cheese. Serve with a green salad and a glass of chardonnay for lovely supper.

3 ounces mezzi tubetti (or penne or elbow macaroni)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup 1% low-fat milk

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 1/2 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded (or use a blend of your favorite cheeses)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Dash of cayenne

1. Cook the pasta in boiling water for 10 minutes or until al dente.

2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

3. While the pasta cooks, heat a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil. Add the mushrooms, and saute 5 minutes or until they’ve released their liquid and browned a bit. Scrape the mushrooms from the pan.

3. Return the pan to medium heat. Add milk. Whisk in the flour. Cook over medium heat 4 minutes, or until thickened, whisking constantly. Remove pan from heat. Add cheese and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk until the cheese melts.

4. When the pasta is done, drain it well in a colander. Add pasta and mushrooms to cheese sauce, stirring to combine. Transfer pasta to a single-serving ovenproof dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Yield: 1 serving.

Pantry treasures


A can of tomatoes provides the base for versatile sauce.

A can of tomatoes provides the base for versatile sauce.

One way I’m preparing for an upcoming cross-country move is to eat through my pantry staples. Sure, I can donate unopened cans of broth or boxes of pasta to food banks, which really need them this year. But they won’t be too interested in my half-consumed sack of Great Northern beans or Carnoli rice or artisinal cornmeal. Can you say soup? Risotto? Grits?

I’ve been eating popcorn like a fiend, yet the level of kernels in the jar appears to remain constant–a magic jar of popcorn that seems to insist on migrating with me! Any thoughts on what to do with popped corn (other than slather it with butter and salt) will be much appreciated.

Pasta is high on my list of pantry favorites. So, in an effort to dress up the stuff, I pulled a can of whole peeled tomatoes out of the cupboard and whipped up a pot of tomato sauce. It’s a low-effort recipe that yields lots of flavor and possibilities.

Pantry Pasta Sauce

The flavors are intentionally simple; add rosemary or oregano, if you like. You can use this, of course, on pasta, or as the base for lasagna. Last night, I combined some with cooked penne, Monterey Jack cheese, and Parmigiano-Reggiano in a little gratin dish and baked at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. It’s also good on pizza, or spooned over sauteed chicken.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Pantry Pasta Sauce

Pantry Pasta Sauce

1 cup chopped onion

2 minced garlic cloves

1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes (use kitchen shears to roughly cut up the tomatoes in the can)

1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add oil. Add onion; saute 4 minutes or until onion is softened. Add garlic; saute 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Puree in the pot using an immersion blender or transfer sauce to a blender or food processor. Yield: 2 1/2 cups.