Elbow Macaroni with Comté Cheese and Baby Spinach Recipe

Coquillettes au Comté et Pousses d’Epinard

A lot can be learned about your cooking self by considering what you eat when you’re on your own. I have friends who are simply not hungry when they’re alone, who forget to eat (say what?), who don’t consider it a real meal if there’s no dining companion, or — and I am not making this up — who just eat a Kinder Surprise, build the little toy and call it dinner.

What’s most surprising to me is that some of them are great cooks, but somehow they don’t find it worth the effort to use their talents if it’s just for their own benefit. I say, you should treat yourself as if you were your own guest.

Eating dinner alone is a unique opportunity to eat exactly what I please and how I please, and relish my sweet solitude.

I understand the desire to keep things simple when no one’s looking, and I’m not saying you should prepare multiple courses or unleash a parade of votive candles, but to me, dinner alone shouldn’t be expedited as if it were a chore. Instead, I see it as a unique opportunity to eat exactly what I please and how I please, and relish my sweet solitude. In my world, this usually means eating from a bowl, on the couch, while watching an episode of whatever television series I’m currently devouring.

This effortless pasta dish is one of my standbys. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is a variation on a dish I ate as a child: for a slightly more grown-up flavor, I now add shredded baby spinach leaves, which soften in the arms of the pasta, and a dash of freshly grated nutmeg to complement the greens and cheese.

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Elbow Macaroni with Comté Cheese and Baby Spinach Recipe

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

Serves you.

Elbow Macaroni with Comté Cheese and Baby Spinach Recipe


  • 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) elbow macaroni
  • Fine sea salt
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
  • 40 grams (1 1/2 ounces) comté cheese (substitute gruyère cheese or parmesan)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salted butter
  • Freshly ground pepper and nutmeg


  1. Pour four cups fresh water and a teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil. Pour in the macaroni and cook for the amount of time given on the package, or until al dente.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheese coarsely using the large holes of a cheese grater.
  3. Rinse and dry the baby spinach leaves, then chop them roughly.
  4. When the pasta is done, drain and transfer to a bowl. Add in the butter and spinach, season with salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg, and toss to coat.
  5. Top with cheese and toss just a little to combine -- you don't want the cheese to melt too fast.
  6. Throw in a spoon or fork, press "play" on the DVD player, and dig in.


Tip: While the pasta is cooking, pour half a cup of very hot water (but not boiling) in the bowl you're going to use. This will heat up the bowl and help keep the pasta warm while you eat it. Discard the water just before you put the pasta in the bowl.

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  • Yummy, I think I’ll try that as soon as possible !

  • Coquillettes au Comté et Pousses d’Epinard-a very grand name for a homey. gemutlick(sp) dish. Google translates it as:Coquillettes in the County and Spinach Growths?! Looks very satisfying evenso.

  • kelly

    Oooh comte. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to find in the US. Luckily, not only am I living in the Franche-comte, I’m in Poligny, the capital of comte cheese. I never knew heaven until I had fondue made with comte and vin jaune.

  • My wife often only eats breakfast cereal if I’m not there.
    Whenever she’s away, I see it as a chance to eat the food she doesn’t like (usually calve’s liver…mmm) though I have been known just to drink beer and eat potato crisps!

  • Neil

    Sounds like Tuesday’s dinner. Would have been tonight’s except for the already prepared Dungeness crab.

  • Lilli

    reminds me of “Spinatspaetzle” with cheese…..( dish from southern germany), you can sprinkle some roasted onions over it…

  • This was a favorite dish of mine growing up. Brings back nice memories! Thanks for posting it.

  • Debbie

    I also cannot understand how anyone can “forget” to eat??? When I am on my own it is a great opportunity to experiment and try things that are new and interesting. Mind you, my thoughts do revolve around my stomach most of the time… so not surprising really…

    This is the sort of thing I love as a comfort food dish. Simple and delicious

  • Cindy

    Just some info for the States-bound. If you are so fortunate to live within driving distance of a Whole Foods, the world of delicious cheeses (including Brie de Nangis, Compte, Brin d’Amour and much more) is open. I drive three hours away for these delicacies!

  • I’ve made something similar, substituting the comté as it isn’t readily available where I live. It’s pure comfort food.

  • I’ve never seen mac ‘n cheese look so seductive. Nice post.

  • Donna

    T’as raison, Clothilde! I do cherish the odd evening alone with no one to cook for. Sometimes it’s just me and a book and a bowl of popcorn (not microwave!), but often I love cooking simple dishes and setting a lovely table and eating slowly, savoring the food and the quiet. (This is an elementary school teacher speaking.) This would be a lovely dish for that! Being in the the SF Bay area, we have not only Whole Foods, but numerous other cheese shops where I can stock up with Comté – among other “delices francaises”!

  • kitchenette

    Thanks for the hot water technique to keep the bowl hot. I hate eating pasta cold and I try not eating so quickly

  • Mmm.

    Gorgeously simple, delicious-sounding dish…My favorite kind.

    I love your site!

    Film Stock

  • Ahh, marvelous. I think that pasta of any kind is the ultimate rainy day alone-time comfort food. This looks fantastic. I will try it very soon.

  • Wow, that looks delicious. And quite sophisticated for a mac and cheese dish. I would call it a distant cousin :) I’ve never tried the comte cheese in a pasta dish, will have to now. Thanks for sharing!

  • Are there really no real baby spinach leaves in the U.S.?? Are they just all born “adults”? I can believe that because I have a recipe for artichoke and potato soup which calls for “baby artichokes” which are just artichokes gathered when they are small– but in the U.S. I’ve never been able to find them and in Italy you can.

    When I’m not home, my husband eats everything in the refrigerator… I on the other hand spend a lot of my time praying that I might forget about food, its taste, its everything, but alack and alas…I am not so unfortunate!!!!

    Nice recipe!


  • I love to eat in front of the TV with a bowl of pasta — gotta be careful, though. Seems to settle right on the butt! I have all the ingredients for this dish at home plus a little bacon — bad girl!
    Thanks, Clothilde!

  • Sounds wonderful. Kristina, I’m not sure if this will help (depends where you’re located) but I’ve found baby artichokes (in season) at various farmer’s markets in San Francisco & Los Angeles…

  • nancy

    Isn’t it funny that we have to be reminded that we can actually cook something as simple and wonderful for ourselves as pasta with cheese and spinach? I have baby spinach in my fridge as we speak, so this idea will help me keep a new year’s resolution to eat my greens. Thank you for all of your wonderful writing and inspirations, I look forward to more reading and cooking with you!

  • Your papounet

    The funny thing is that Clotilde didn”t like spinach (baby or grown up, no matter) when she was a kid. Neither did her sister.
    Lots of kids don”t “like” lots of foods… In fact, they often have a very limited range of “likes”. Parents” strategies vary to overcome the all-too-frequent conflicts at the dinner table. Some of them will simply force their kids to eat everything that”s in their plate (character-builders, disciplinarians, sadists or no-nonsense parents, whatever); others, more progressive perhaps, or less strong-willed, will bow to every refusal. Yet others will go so far as to stop cooking the “don”t like” foods, or will provide distinct menus (kind-hearted, unselfish parents, perhaps?)
    My wife and I resorted to a different strategy, one that mixes sadism and “laissez-faire”… Clotilde and her sister Céline, when stating that they “didn”t like” whatever that was, had to go through a moral contractual process: they had to eat one spoonful, or one forkful. If they still thought they didn”t like it, they were allowed to leave it. (That”s remotely similar to what Mithridates used to do…)
    And by Jove! It worked, after all! See Clotilde gobbling up spinach, now!

  • Brava! I live alone, and I cook lavish meals all the time. Some of them are for friends and family, and some of them are simple little me. I don’t think anyone should treat herself as second-class, just because she’s the only one in the house at the moment. Thank you, Clotilde.

    p.s. I love this comment from your papounet!

  • I was only recently converted to eating real food when I am alone. Eating used to be a mindless moment, sometimes subsisting on yogurt for days. Living on Mexican time has gifted me a lesson in life’s pleasures. Now, it’s a real dinner with fresh ingredients from the open market, enjoyed with music and candles on the terrace overlooking my garden. It’s amazing how much more energy I have these days! And I’m amassing a nice collection of recipes-for-one in my Connoisseur files to which this lush macaroni & cheese dish will be added!

  • I, too, often eat my dinners from a bowl on the couch, but it’s The Simpsons that join me rather than the Desperate Housewives …

    While I certainly save my best culinary efforts for when I have guests, I generally do treat myself as though I were a guest myself; I like food too much to do otherwise. Thanks for adding such a yummy-looking recipe to my dinners-for-one file!

  • I don’t have any reservations about going all out when dining alone. It also presents an opportunity to eat foods that other people think they would not enjoy, like couscous and chickpeas.

  • Jennifer

    The last time I had friends over for a home-cooked meal, they dug in before I had a chance to join them, criticized the meal even as they inhaled it, wrapped cookies and candies in napkins and put them into pockets, pointed at a side dish and said “Ick! What is that?”–then ate it without waiting for a response, and I thought, “Who the hell are these people?” I swore that I wouldn’t cook for anyone else again; we could order pizza instead.

    But that’s a lie–I know that I sometimes will cook and serve and clean up. Not all my friends and acquaintances are graceless or starving, and sometimes I like the idea of pleasing others with a good meal.

    Still, I mostly cook to please myself, and pasta is one of the easiest and inventive ways to go. Two nights ago I made an orzo salad with cilantro and feta; last night all I could manage was hummus on toast, with a little wine on the side. Tonight is book club night, so I’ll probably channel all my creative energy into scanning a restaurant menu. Pasta with spinach and probably romano (because that’s what I have)–that will be later this week!

  • I have several dishes that I only cook when I’m home alone. Easy, quick and tasty goes for most of them (although I have cooked more elaborate meals for myself, that happens rarely). Nigella’s “How to Eat” has a whole chapter on eating alone, and it’s excellent (her Cream of chicken soup from that chapter is really good).

    By the way, it’s a little disheartening to see several comments on how people feel bad for eating at all. Don’t feel bad for eating good food! Enjoy it instead! Just like Clotilde :)

  • I remember like Clothilde this traditional dish we grew up this.
    I would like to comment on a few of the lines I read in the comments.
    I live in the USA myself, in the Boston area and I can tell you we can find comte, baby spinach leaves and baby artichokes. Could be harder in more rural areas, but it is rare that I experienced not finding an item to cook with. It is all the more true as there is a very wide array of cuisines. I come from a rural area in France where there are many exotic foods not available. Remember not everyone in France lives in Paris.

    Thought you might want to know.


  • Jenn

    In college I lived alone for 2 years, and often prepared something like this for myself. I would add garlic, and sometimes canned fish, and I used parmiggiano reggiano, or pecorino romano, but it’s the same basic thing. I also used to stir the whole thing (minus pasta) into eggs and scramble them and stuff them in a whole wheat pita pocket as the best exam-day breakfast in the world.

  • What a great and simple dish Clothilde, thanks a lot for sharing!

    I love spinach, and especially fresh baby spinage, and I often use it in a very simple but delicious pasta and chicken recipe I’ve been fortunate to stumble upon. Mangold is also great, resembles spinach, and when it’s in season I usually put some of my mother’s home grown mangold or spinage in various recipes, for example pie.

    It’s sad that many single households don’t care enough to cook for themselves, personally I think cooking for one self is a great opportunity to experiment a little. Here in Sweden the single households were forgotten in the yearly flood of cookbooks that is released for a long time, but in recent years some cookbooks have tried to reach single households as well.

  • Mmmm Comte….i was just tasting some over Christmas and the difference between the various ages is really something. I’d urge you to have a go if you get a chance.

  • Aschka

    Clotilde, I’m just like you! I love the food I make for myself, and I appreciate it in the same way with the same comforts of home. A lot of it gets cooked in one pot. It’s often not the kind of thing I feel is presentable to guests, but it’s heartwarming, simple and yummy. Cooking for me is most gratifying!

  • Fifi

    For those who can’t find comte nearby, visit http://www.zingermans.com – the web site of the great food store based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They have comte and other amazing cheeses, and will ship anywhere.

    I love a variation on this dish I make with sauteed kale and caramelized onions, and whatever good cheese I have on hand, lately Garroxta from Spain (and also via Zingerman’s).

  • Dean & DeLuca Soho-NYCmust be reading C&Z, ‘cos they put out a huge wheel of Comte with smaller sections in their cheese display on Monday. The smell is awesome!

  • Simple and delicious!

  • If ever there was good advice, this was it:

    “I say, you should treat yourself as if you were you own guest.”

    Makes me feel guilty for the bowl of white rice or tuna-from-the-can-with-lemon-and-capers meals I’ve had over the years.

  • Hillary Davis

    Oh no! Another mouthwatering dish that I so want to try! How can I diet away 15 new holiday pounds while ferverently drooling over your wonderful pictures and descriptions? No matter, I’m going to try it anyway!

  • That looks so comforting and delicious!
    I make a similar pasta with a sautéed swiss chard, but I don’t use the Comte cheese – I’ll definitely have to try that next time. Thank you!

  • janepark

    hi- i really enjoy visiting your blog-your blog is always fascinating!
    i live in korea but from next week i’ll be in France compiegne .As an exchange student i’ll stay there for one year- i’m very excited!!
    I’ll keep visit your blog wherever i am!

  • David

    Comte not being available, at least not readily I substituted parmesan and a bit of aged cheddar! “twas lovely! And it helped me use some of the baby spinach I am normally just wilting. Very nice to get the scoop on Clothilde and Celine from their Papa!

  • I make a version of the same dish for solo meals as well, convinced as I am that only I could love such a thing. Instead of spinach, I use broccoli, and instead of Comté, gorgonzola.

  • We’ve just eaten this for dinner (a gruyere version), first time I’ve made a blog recipe (although there are many more I may make). It was delicious, thank you!

  • shelly

    Jon –

    Have you tried Barilla or, even better, De Cecco pasta? Barilla is quite good, and De Cecco is excellent, imho.


  • gaelyn

    mmm, i made this last night for dinner and it was great! i used to make a similar, less tasty and diverse version when i was young too. the comte is lovely and mild and the spinach and nutmeg give it more ooph and flavor, very simple and nice.

  • Alisa

    Hee Hee! I do the same contractural deal with my girls that your parents did with you. And more often than not they eat more than just the one bite!

  • maarten

    I’ve tried it, and it’s really a fantastic recipe!

  • ann

    I have to say that I’m very much the same way. If I’m alone one night for dinner, I’m apt not to cook or to grab a bowl of cereal. However, even if I’m cooking for one other person, I go a little overboard!

  • the clean plate club

    It’s not so hard to find comte in the US. I’m grating some right now, 15-month aged. Things are looking far, far up here cheese-wise. And thank God.

  • Michelle

    Salut Clotilde, tonight I doubled your dinner for one and turned it into an impromptu dinner for two for me and my sister. I used Emmenthaler because my Trader Joe’s had run out of Comte the last time I went shopping there. This dish was so delicious and really hit the spot. It was my first time making one of your recipes and I shall make it several more times, even if I’m not dining alone. My sister is a foodie/gourmande and was generous in her compliments to the chef (moi), so now you have yet another adoring fan! I can’t wait for your book to come out.

  • megan

    I am a cook by profession and I just wrote a post about how a true cook cooks at home as well as at work.
    I too am baffeled at my co workers eating and cooking habits outside of work…i.e. #9 supersized with a coke.
    I just went grocery shopping the other day and bought elbow macaroni with the hope of eating a warm bowl of it by myself watching the Sapranos.
    Cheers… and thanks for the reasurance

  • Stacy

    Sounds wonderful! I have some fresh spinach and was thinking of using it in a pasta dish tonight, so your post is so timely!

  • Mrs Redboots

    This does sound good, although I’m never too sure how much I like spinach, so I might just substitute a thinly-sliced courgette (zucchini).

    Usually when the Husband is out I have a tin of choucroute garni or petit salé aux lentilles which I stock up on when I’m in France, as he doesn’t care for either very much and I adore them.

  • It’s like a very sophisticated and elegant mac and cheese – I want this for dinner! :)

  • Maximiano

    Clotilde, I just received in my mailbox the C&Z cookbook!!!
    I’ll start this very weekend with some recipes.
    I can’t wait… maybe I’ll do something tonight.

  • Kara

    Where are all the gardeners? Spinach is very easy to grow, even in a small space and oh so satisfying when it’s home-grown! I entice my very picky daughter and son with, “this may be your most favorite food in the world, ever but you’ll never know if you don’t try it.” It always works – they give it a try. Dandelion greens are one of my daughter’s favorite foods and she would have never known if she didn’t try it! That goes for everyone, I guess! This recipe is perfect for a lunch made at work – fast, easy and dee-lish! Thank you, again as always!

  • I got such a kick out of your comment – people actually forget to eat? I just cannot comprehend that either!

  • This recipe became one of my favorite the very day I finally tried it, except that (small voice) I just made a change… Shame on me, I juste can’t help it, changing a little something every time I try a recipe : as much as I enjoy a tasty comté (especially a more-than-18-month-year-old one from rue Lepic), I found it a little, mh, dull here. So I tried… feta cheese instead, and especially love it this way. Yes, *feta cheese*. But that was really your idea, in the beginning, so thanks for that !

  • Diane

    Looks like total comfort food.

    I am single, and I love to cook for myself. I cook elaborate meals, simple meals, road-test complicated Indian curries or simply put sardines and cukes on toast. I don’t feel right if I’m not cooking something. The idea of not eating good food unless I have someone to share it with is totally foreign to me.

    Sure I like to cook for others – it’s very rewarding. But I love to cook for myself. I do it for fun, not obligation.

  • Mackenzie

    I just made this for the first time tonight, on this gray, drizzly Michigan evening. C’est merveilleux! Just heaven in a bowl. I feel so fortunate to live near three (count ’em, three!) stores that sell 15 month old raw-milk Comte. This is going to replace the tartine de champignons au Cantal as my weekly C&Z staple.

  • Looks so delicious. For cheese-lovers, there is nothing on earth quite as satisfying as a dish of homemade macaroni and cheese.

  • you always bring out the most rewarding for everyone, thanks

  • looks very attractive

  • I am following your blog regularly and got great information. I really like the tips you have given. Thanks a lot for sharing. http://www.frozengames2.com

  • DebbieSue

    Hi. I have been reading your recipes and uses for sorrel. I have lots of sorrel that needs eating before the first frost. Do you think I could substitute sorrel for the baby spinach here? Many thanks!

    • I would mix sorrel with another milder green as it can be pretty tart and astringent on its own. But some people love it just like that, so you can decide!

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