Operation Chickpea continues.

A few years ago there was a rash of cookbooks about sneaking food into your family’s mouths, disguising cauliflower as cake and carrots as milkshakes. As I recall a lot of breading was involved (what is in these yummy croquettes, mama?), and there was a backlash condemning the strategies as trickery and dishonesty. I do think people over the age of three should probably know what they are eating. You might be nourishing their bodies with unannounced ingredients, but not their sense of what they like.

I just read a Jane Grigson recipe for French almond cake in which she states, “when you have made the cake a few times, vary it a bit by the addition of a roasted and ground pork kidney. The filling will taste interestingly granular--nobody will be able to guess why.” I reckon not. I don’t think I can really get behind that approach, nor can I muster a whole lot of answering sympathy when she laments that the French themselves, in the very town for which the pastry is named, no longer take the trouble.

Having been a vegetarian on the receiving end of several I-didn’t-think-you-would-notice-the-chicken-stock items, there is a limit to what I’ll try to sneak under the radar. But when serious philosophical or religious objections are not a moral obstacle to the trickery, I freely confess that I am not above a pretty quiet revelation.

I do like to fiddle with the nutritional wallop any given item might pack, too--hence duding up baked goods with extra flax meal or almond flour, and hence this minor cha-cha with the mac and cheese. Using ceci flour in place of wheat flour to make the white sauce base here increases the protein (and varies its source) and the fiber and, if you substitute a suitable alternative pasta, makes it gluten-free. It’s also more savory, with none of the sweetness of white flour that I am always trying to combat in this entrée with epic amounts of salt.

I’ve never made a secret of what I put in it, though no one ever seems to remember that it’s in there, and ruggedly maintain their continued aversion to the chickpea. They do prefer it to the old kind, though--when, in a pinch, I’ve had to revert, they moan about it. Maybe I’ll grind up a kidney or two and see what that does for it.

mac & cheese

5T butter

6T garbanzo bean flour

4 c milk

½ t salt, especially this one

fresh pepper to taste

2 ½ to 3 c coarsely grated cheddar, or a mix of cheddar and Gruyere or Parrano or anything that tastes (and melts) as you like it to, divided

½ c finely grated parmesan

1 # pasta

Cook the pasta in plenty of well-salted water until al dente, and drain. Rinse in cold water to stop the cooking and keep it un-clumped.

Butter a baking dish that will accommodate the pasta and sauce. I use a bid, wide Le Creuset because the crisp cheesy bits are the prime real estate around here, and I need to maximize the acreage. I prefer it to glass because I like to finish this under the broiler, but an 11x13 pyrex dish is a comparable choice in terms of size. Preheat the oven to 350.

In the pasta pot, melt the butter until it foams. Whisk in the bean flour until the mixture is entirely smooth, and sauté for a minute or two, stirring all the while. Now, with your whisking arm all revved up, pour the milk in slowly and stir, stir, stir. Bring this to a simmer, stirring often, and cook about five minutes, until you see the mixture thicken. It won’t be terribly thick; kind of like heavy cream consistency. Stir in the salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Remove from the heat.

Stir in the pasta and about 1 ½ c of the cheddar, plus the parmesan. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Pour into your prepared baking dish and top with the remaining cheddar.

Bake about 25 minutes, until golden on top. If not browned to your liking, run under the broiler a moment but learn from my terrible example and do not walk away for a second while this is going on. It’s a short hop from toasty to heartbreak.

If you’re making this ahead, I find it’s better to make and bake it, then reheat it later. Maybe under-bake it in this case, but if you let it sit, all combined, before baking then the noodles drink up all the liquid.