Then this morning it hit me: I'm overthinking this. I'll just do what I did when I had the idea for the column in the first place: go the grocery store hungry and see what would sound good combined. Encouraged, I left for Kroger. This is what I came home with:
- 1 pack of sea shell pasta.
- 1 pack of orzo. (You could use rice, if you are a person who likes rice. I am not.)
- 1 pack of gnocchi. (Actually, I had already cooked a bag of gnocchi for a previous meal; the other half of the pack is in the plasticware container pictured above.)
- Velveeta, because it melts great, and I am not ashamed to admit, I fucking love the stuff. So there.
- Laughing Cow cheese spread. The champagne of cheese spreads.
- A block of extra-sharp cheddar cheese. I would have bought it pre-shredded, but they did not carry an extra-sharp shredded variety, and I WILL NOT BE MADE TO SETTLE FOR LESSER SHARPOSITY. I shredded it myself.
Giggling uncontrollably, I got to work. First, I started a big-ass pot of water on the boil and dumped half of the shells and half of the orzo in there. I would have dumped the gnocchi in there as well, had they not already been cooked. Next, I coated a little sauce-pan with no-stick spray and started melting half of the stick of Velveeta (roughly 8 ounces) and half of the pack of Laughing Cow cheese (four wedges). You've got to keep a close eye on the cheese; anyone who has ever been to a party with a fondue pot knows that if you let cheese heat for long enough, it'll convert to a sticky brownish crud with the consistency of rubber cement that you'll have to sandblast to get off of your dinnerware.
A word about boiling pasta: Everyone has their own opinion on how long to boil it. One person will say, "You must boil pasta for exactly five minutes and NO LONGER, lest the gypsies curse ye!" while the next person who comes along will swear up and down that, "You are an imbalanced crazy insane person! Anyone who boils pasta for less than eight minutes will catch cancer of the taste buds!" I boil mine with a tablespoon of salt for ten minutes. It's always worked well for me, so please, don't give me any shit. Also: Since the gnocchi had already been cooked, I only let it boil for about a minute, mostly just to reheat it.
Once the pasta is boiled, drain it. CAREFULLY. Before you dump it into a colander, like I did, check that the holes in the thing are not big enough for the orzo to slip through. I did not check first, and lost a bit of good orzo down the drain. I transferred the pasta to a mixing bowl and mixed in the cheese sauce. Now is the best time to mix in the grated cheddar, I think, since cheddar is notorious for being an uncooperative tabletop melt. I mixed in almost all of it then saved a little bit to sprinkle atop my pasta so it would look purty.
So how did it taste? It was awesome. The orzo and shells had a great texture, and the gnocchi provided just a little bit of potato-y earthiness. I probably would have enjoyed it more, had I not spent most of the meal worrying that I was going to drop dead at any moment. Luckily I remembered the Shameless Chef motto: "Fuck it, let's eat."