Creamy Parmesan Orzo

One of my best friends visited me this weekend for May Day, which is a beautiful end of year festival at Bryn Mawr.  Everyone wears white, dances around the may pole as well as the may hole (the feminist response to the may pole, a Bryn Mawr tradition--see below) and then sits out on the green listening to music.

It was a lovely, gorgeous and fun day which began with mimosas and strawberries and cream at 8 am and lasted until late in the day.  

When we woke up the next morning, we were starving. I opened up the fridge and saw, well, not much. Our choices, I said to Dylan, are pasta, or pasta. I was planning on making orzo with olive oil and salt (plain, ridiculously easy and still delicious especially with good olive oil!), but then I had an idea. 

When I was in high school, I used to babysit for a family every week. In the beginning, I made the younger daughter Annie's Shells or Kraft mac n' cheese for dinner as it was easy for all of us. One day though, we were out of both those options. I decided to make homemade mac n' cheese using Fannie Farmer's recipe for B√©chamel (White Sauce). Every week after that for the next few years, I was asked to make "Anna's Mac n' Cheese", as the younger daughter dubbed it. 

I thought of this simple sauce yesterday, but was out of "mac n' cheese cheese" (I like to use a sharp cheddar). I had a pre-grated container of Trader Joe's parmesan and romano mix, so decided to use that.

The result was perfectly creamy and delicious, completely easy yet impressive.  Some kind of greens (kale in garlic and olive oil or roasted asparagus) would go well with it--but that would involve a trip to the grocery store!

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1-1/4 c milk, heated
  • 1/2 to 1 c grated parmesan (or other) cheese*
  • salt
  • pepper

*The amount of cheese you put in is really up to your own taste. When I made it for the girls I babysat, I would always let them "test" for the appropriate level of cheesiness.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the flour and cook for about 2 minutes until a paste is formed (be careful not to let it burn). Add the milk and stir until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil. Add salt and pepper to taste and continue to stir while it cooks for another minute or two. Add the cheese and stir in to let it melt. Taste test for "appropriate cheesiness" and remove from heat. Mix into the pasta and serve.

Note: A skin will develop over the sauce if it is left for two long, but if you're not using it right away you can cover or pour a thin layer of milk over it.

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