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What? Has anybody else ever heard of this?

I was on line looking over various macaroni & cheese recipes when I came across a very old one dating back to Thomas Jefferson's time. The directions call for the pasta to be boiled in a combination of milk & water. I have never heard of pasta being boiled in anything except plain old salted water. Has anyone out there tried this milk method? What does the milk during the boiling process do for the pasta (if anything)?

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  1. I think I have seen this before recently in a one pot recipe for mac and cheese. Personally I would be worried about the milk foaming up and overflowing all over the place.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Atomic76

      If you watch it carefully to avoid this I don't see any reason why you should end up with something other than slightly-richer/more dairy-flavored noodles. They'll just absorb some of the milk, right? There seem to be a lot of recipes for mac and cheese out there that use the starch-thickened milk left after cooking as a base for the cheese sauce. Seems like a decent idea.

      1. re: lamb_da_calculus

        My favorite recipe for mac & cheese involves making a puree of milk, cottage cheese, and spices, adding the shredded cheese and dry pasta to it, and then baking it. No pre-boiling (and no water at all!) involved.

        1. re: BobB

          I would love this recipe if you would share it!

          1. re: nat8199

            I've made something similar, and it is very good. Here's where I found the recipe: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/04/din...

            1. re: nat8199

              Sure - this is the recipe I make. I usually add more chipotle peppers and omit the cotijo, but it works either way.


              1. re: BobB

                I am in love. I will be making this as soon as possible.

            2. re: BobB

              That's the recipe I use. I don't purée anymore, just mix it all in a large bowl

        2. I have heard of this but I have not tried it. I read that when you boil the pasta in the milk and water it adds starch to the water/milk so it can be used as a base for the cheese sauce.

          1. Why not? There are plenty of recipes (and products) for making pasta dishes with unboiled pasta. Someplace on CH someone once posted a recipe for mac& cheese that just combined the milk, cheese, and uncooked pasta, then baked it.

            Makes sense to me to use the amount of water that will be absorbed by the pasta, and once the macaroni is tender, stir the cheese into it and the remaining liquid. In Jefferson's time, boiling may have been a good way to use up spoiling milk.

            2 Replies
            1. re: greygarious

              I make Mac n cheese without cooking the pasta. Noodles, milk, shredded cheese, cottage cheese. (Red pepper flakes, mustard, salt, pepper add flavor)

              1. re: cheesecake17

                We had this tonight... Buttermilk, cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, onions, mustard powder, a bit of cayenne.

            2. I'm going to try posting an image of that recipe. As you can see the water/milk is drained after boiling.

              5 Replies
              1. re: i_am_Lois

                Guessing that back in the day, the drained water would have gone to feed the hogs.

                  1. re: firecooked

                    Er, or the slaves. (sorry to bring up such sad memories).

                    1. re: lagatta

                      Why apologize for stating an obvious option? Not nearly as thought provoking as how to reutilize hot dog or beet water as found here at Chowhound.

                  2. re: i_am_Lois

                    I've seen modern recipes for this, but they don't call for both water and milk, and they don't drain all of the milk after cooking.

                    I remember seeing one online last year which went something like this:

                    Boil pasta in whole milk until almost done.
                    Turn off heat.
                    Add in cheese/s, butter, salt, mustard powder, etc. and stir until fully melted.
                    Pour into buttered casserole dish and cover with foil.

                    The photos didn't look quite as creamy as a traditionally made mac and cheese (no flour/roux to thicken), but it looked easy enough for someone who's busy.

                    I think the idea is to get the pasta going in milk to absorb some of it, then in the oven it will absorb the remainder.

                  3. The Barilla recipe calls for 1) making a roux, 2) adding milk and bringing to a boil, 3) adding the pasta and cooking it, 4) removing from the heat and adding the cheese.*

                    Pretty simple and works well. You still dress it up by choice of pasta and cheese(s).

                    *Hope I didn't forget any steps.

                    I'd bet that in TJ's time the raw milk was much richer and thicker than what we get today, so they would probably have had to thin it with water to cook with it.

                    1. Hip Pressure Cooking has a bunch of pressure-cooked pasta recipes cooked in some sort of (non dairy) sauce
                      They are not drained, and the pasta absorbs the sauce.

                      1. I had tried one called civil war mac and cheese - it was pretty good and the starch from cooking the pasta and the milk slowly made it quite silky and creamy. It was similar to risotto, the milk was slowly absorbed by stirring. I can paste the recipe in if allowed and anyone wants it.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ElsieB

                          My Mennonite grandmother/mother and five sisters used to cook macaroni in half milk have water all the time. We had a ton of milk available so that may have been the reason.
                          My mother used to slow simmer all sorts of root veg./potatoes in 'half and half' with lots of home made butter.
                          Delicious always.
                          Don't know why I haven't tried it before.
                          I've just made HB's perfect mashed potatoes to go with tonight's BB.
                          Next time half whole milk and water and potatoes for sure.

                          1. I have made this recipie, and saved the recipie so that means I'd make it again:). My notes are to add 1-4 tbsp butter, I forget at what point I did this. I also took the suggestion to bake it and I liked it much better this way. My cheese was much too gooey and baking helped fix the texture. I think this was due to a cheese problem, not a recipie glitch. It was a fun experiment. Oh, and don't boil the milk, simmer....


                            1. Civil War Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
                              Prep time: 5 minutesCook time: 45 minutes
                              4 cups whole milk
                              1/2 pound elbow macaroni pasta (2 to 2 1/2 cups)
                              4 Tbsp butter
                              2 cups, packed, grated cheddar cheese (about 1/2 pound)
                              Freshly ground black pepper
                              1/4 to 1/3 cup bread crumbs
                              Cayenne (optional)
                              1 Heat the milk in a large saucepan until steamy. Stir in the dry macaroni pasta. Let come to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Pay attention while the macaroni is cooking in the milk as the milk may foam up and boil over if the milk gets too hot. Cook the macaroni for 15 minutes or until done. The macaroni should absorb almost all of the milk.
                              2 Preheat oven to 400°F. As soon as the macaroni is close to being done, melt the butter in a separate saucepan, stir in the grated cheese, black pepper to taste and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. Once the cheese has melted, pour the sauce into the macaroni and milk mixture and stir to combine. Taste and add salt if needed.
                              3 Place macaroni and cheese mixture into a baking dish. Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs. Sprinkle lightly with cayenne (if using). Bake in a 400°F oven for 20 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.
                              Yield: Serves 4.

                              1. I make the Burt Greene version of macaroni salad: you boil the macaroni in water but then drain and let sit in milk til it absorbs somewhat. A great secret (not so much anymore I guess). Cannot compare to water alone.