I’ve become an afficionado of macaroni and cheese. As detailed in my previous post, I like making cheese sauces, so the next step in the staircase is to make macaroni & cheese.
Now, don’t even THINK I mean that stuff you take out of a box. It has its place in food history but that is NOT what I’m talking about. Let’s just say that I’ve taken a page from the Southern cooking mindset and I make hand crafted, home made macaroni and cheese. Baked in the oven.
This is how I do it. And, just so you know, I’m going to put in a few additional tips for “if you like it this way….” or “if you like it THIS way…”
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour (AP works here)
2 cups milk
Let’s start with the basic ingredients here. Melt the butter on low. Sprinkle in the flour. Whisk until smooth. Turn the heat up to medium. Cook for about 2 minutes to get the “flour” taste out of it. Don’t let it get too golden brown – just a nice blonde roux.
Slowly add the milk, whisking to keep it from lumping. At this point, I turn the heat up to around medium high, but I’m working with one of those ceramic topped ranges and controlling the heat is a nightmare. I would say on any NORMAL range, keep the heat btwn medium and medium high. Whisk constantly. Just keep stirring with the whisk, and stirring and stirring and stirring. Could take up to 15 minutes. The mixture will thicken and when it comes to a boil, you’re about where you’ll be. Now, depending on how you like your mac & cheese, the next step is kinda up to you.
If you like a runnier, wetter, not quite so thick cheese sauce, stop cooking the white sauce before it comes to a boil. If you want a thicker, gooier cheese sauce, do the full time and let it boil up to a minute. Still stirring of course.
2 cups cheese – again, this is a “how do you like your cheese sauce” point. I’m a fan of big cheese flavor. So, I use a combination of Mexican cheeses (acadero, queso blanco, monterey jack and another I can’t remember). If I just want the cheesy texture but less flavor, go just with monterey jack. If you want even more cheese flavor, go with colby, or even sharp cheddar. I’m a lazy person and use preshredded, but if I’m looking for a sort of artisinal spin, I may grate my own gouda, or something. BTW, it won’t hurt if you add an extra half a cup of cheese. Whisk the cheese into the white sauce until melted.
1 lb pasta, cooked and drained. If you want a nice chewy texture, cook it on the short side of the amount of time noted for the pasta. If you are looking for a softer, creamier texture, cook the entire time and add maybe 30 seconds to 1 minute.
In a large baking pan, prepared with cooking spray (makes the clean up SO much easier!), combine the pasta and the cheese sauce. Try to distribute both as evenly as you can.
This last step before baking is optional. Some like it, some don’t. Sprinkle the top with panko breadcrumbs. Really nice if you’ve got a bit of a wet sauce going on. If you REALLY want some fun, add in a bit of dried parsley. BTW, some people like to mix the bread crumbs with butter-I find that with a good sauce, no butter is needed and you get the right proportion of crunchy on top.
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.
Now, some of you may want to adjust a bit – things you might want to do:
- sub out some of the milk in the white sauce with white wine or veggie broth, or chicken stock.
- saute a crushed, minced garlic clove in the butter at first, then add the flour.
- add veggies to the overall product. I used to add in broccoli and cauliflower. If you’re trying to get your kids to eat more veggies, this might be the way. I’ve also added fresh spinach to the pasta/cheese sauce mix in stage then layered roma tomato slices on top and covered with a thin layer of dry cheese – romano or parmesan – along with bread crumbs. for a “florentine” mac & cheese.
- include some pasta water in with the cheese sauce to thin it, then let the cooked pasta re-absorb it during the baking phase.
- add lobster. ’nuff said.
- for the wild ones, drizzle with hot sauce – my current favorite is sriracha, however Frank’s Red Hot, Texas Pete, or good ole Tabasco would do too.
- add in pepperoncini, oregano and feta cheese for a “greek” version of mac & cheese.
- add seafood – lobster, shrimp…best if already cooked but not cooked within an inch of its life
So…those are my thoughts. Let me know your thoughts.