My very first trip out of the U.S. was to Italy. I was 17, homesick, newly vegetarian, and my Italian was downright horrible. I’m quite certain more than one Italian mother shook her head at me and tsk‘ed as I wandered around those brightly colored streets. I knew how to order gelato and apples, I was quite certain I’d packed the wrong shoes, and I was so agog at my first sight of the Trevi Fountain and the basking crowd that it felt like an epiphany.
The hunger and the homesick won out (you actually *can* eat too much gelato while soaking in the sights), and I went in search of one of those tsk‘ing Italian mothers running the corner restaurants. Pasta is like a universal language, and my first bowl of creamy, gooey noodles soothed my soul. Cheese stretched off my fork and my eyes rolled back in my head. Don’t tell me you’ve never felt that way about cheese or pasta. Or maybe you just haven’t had the right kind of pasta.
If you’ve browsed through Gypsy Mamas before, you might have gathered that I’m very fond of food, especially if a bite can transport me back to fond memories, like sunrises over burbling fountains, new friends, and comforting, homey, cheesy goodness. For whatever reason, my children prefer the radioactive-orange boxed variety of Mac and Cheese. I say this is nonsense. If you’re looking for a bowl of delicious pasta that you can have ready in half an hour, look no further.
My favorite part about this recipe is its versatility. Once you have your basic bechamel (the white sauce made with your butter, flour and milk), you can change this up to suit your main dinner dish, your current mood or the contents of your fridge. In the winter, our local deli has tomato basil soup. So, so good. It’s loaded with garlic, and I can only handle a few teaspoons at a time as soup. But add it to the bechamel and soak it into some noodles – pure bliss, let me tell you. In the summer, I sometimes leave the basic sauce alone, and add in fresh basil and tomatoes over the top. For a main dish, you can dice chicken and broccoli and make a casserole. The possibilities are endless, and if you’re boiling noodles while your sauce is cooking, you can have a gooey bowl of goodness in half an hour.