Makes 4 to 6 servings
This is macaroni and cheese for grownups, particularly thin grownups. You will be surprised at the rich flavor you'll get from just a few ingredients. Look for Cantal cheese, a sharp local cheese, at cheese stores or even Costco, but Gruyère or sharp Vermont Cheddar will also do.
1 pound ziti or other tubular pasta
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups crème frâiche (see Note)
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Cantal cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Rub the inside of a 2 1/2-quart baking dish, preferably ceramic (such as a clay paella dish) with the garlic clove. Slather the butter inside the dish.
2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until it is almost, but not quite, done. The pasta will cook further in the oven, so you don't want it to be fully cooked at this point. Drain well.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the pasta, crème frâiche, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Spread in the prepared dish. Bake until the pasta is piping hot and the tips are tinged with brown, about 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, then serve hot.
NOTE: Crème frâiche, which is similar to but less tangy than sour cream (and will not curdle when heated) can be found at upscale supermarkets, cheese shops, and natural food stores.
To make your own crème frâiche, heat 2 cups heavy cream (preferably not ultra-pasteurized) in a saucepan or microwave just until tepid. Stir 2 tablespoons buttermilk into the cream. Transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place in the kitchen until the cream thickens, 18 to 36 hours, depending on the ambient temperature. Now refrigerate the crème frâiche for a day or so--it will thicken more and become more flavorful during chilling. The crème frâiche can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.