Writing about lasagna made me nostalgic of macaroni gratin, which was a staple in our house. However, we never made it from scratch. We bought frozen versions that came in aluminum dishes, and chucked them into the toaster oven for a quick dinner. Although frozen dinners have a bad reputation in the US, Japanese frozen food ranges from “not bad” to “orgasmic night snack.” Interesting thing about Japan is, it’s hard to find genuinely disgusting food that people have aversions to. For example, convenience store foods lack the stigmatization and also the layer of stale oil that are usually associated with US gas station/convenience store food. I remember my friend’s expression when I casually bought a burger from a gas station in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. The burger had developed a look that reminded me of the tortoise in the desert fable from Blade Runner, from the long days of basking in the rays of the food warming contraption.
Anyway, I sometimes crave the frozen gratin from the frozen food aisle, but lack the means to acquire them. I tried making it a couple of times, using as a reference mac and cheese recipes from the US. However, these attempts left me with a mound of squishy yet dry overcooked macaroni. Despite these failures, I never thought of reassessing my sauce to noodle ratio and kept cranking out these macaroni sponges. Once I scanned Japanese gratin recipes, I realized my mistake.
So the right ratio was about 1/4 pound of noodles (I used penne in this one) for about 2 cups of béchamel sauce, which made enough for my 6 cup pyrex dish. I think it was my 6 cup one. Or maybe the 3 cup. I’m not too sure. Anyway, it fed two people easily, despite the small amount of noodles that went in to the dish. Using this noodle-to-sauce ratio resulted in a gratin that was just like the ones I ate in Japan, creamy, yet not too heavy.
As with the lasagna, I just soaked the penne in water for about an hour, instead of boiling them.