My take on mac and cheese is a chilled pasta salad with creamy buttermilk dressing and ricotta salata. In the spring, toss in some blanched and sliced asparagus or blanched fresh peas. The buttermilk dressing would also be tasty on a salad of poached shrimp, cucumbers, and Bibb lettuce or mixed into a bowl of steamed and chilled baby red potatoes.
Ricotta salata is a slightly tangy Italian sheep’s milk cheese. Grate it on the finest holes of a box grater. If you can’t find ricotta salata, substitute pecorino, another Italian sheep’s milk cheese.
Mâche, sometimes called corn salad or lamb’s lettuce, has small dark green leaves with a mild nutty flavor. Tender young pea sprouts would also be nice here. Baby spinach or small arugula leaves will do the trick, too.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
for the buttermilk dressing:
½ cup mayonnaise, homemade, or good-quality store-bought
½ cup sour cream
½ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
¼ cup thinly sliced fresh chives
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced shallot
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
for the salad:
1 pound shaped pasta such as fusilli, farfalle, or cavatappi
¼ cup thinly sliced scallion
3 ounces ricotta salata, grated (about ¾ cup)
5 cups loosely packed mâche he or baby spinach leaves
To make the buttermilk dressing, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, and buttermilk in a bowl. Add the dill, chives, garlic, shallot, and lemon juice and whisk again. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and immediately run under cold water until it is completely cool. Drain well.
Put the pasta in a large bowl and, using a rubber spatula, fold in enough dressing to coat it generously. Fold in the scallion, cheese, and mâche. Mound the salad on a large platter and serve.
A STEP AHEAD: Cook the pasta a few hours ahead, run cold water over it, and drain. Spread the in a over a lightly oiled baking sheet. Cover the pasta with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Make the dressing early in the day, but toss the pasta salad With the dressing only when you are ready to serve.