Oh man, I can’t keep up around here. Good old Meredith (Salem bound, temporary roomie, not London bound, dinner party guest) went to California for an innocent week of vacation and came back ENGAGED! We had to celebrate. She requested macaroni and cheese, which was almost better news than the engagement itself because she could have requested all manner of difficult things like lobster risotto or beef wellington or fresh pasta or something with some sort of dough involved, but instead, she requested mac and cheese. Easy! No hours and hours of prep, no crazy ingredient hunting, and since I just returned from a great wedding at one of the most remarkable hotels I have ever had the pleasure of staying in, and was deeply mourning the loss of having the most amazing staff on hand 24 hours a day to fulfill your slightest whim, I was not in the fend-for-myself-over-a-hot-stove kind of mood. I was still very much in the why-thank-you-for-appearing-out-of-nowhere-with-a-cocktail-and-a-ham-sandwich-I-didn’t-even-realize-I-wanted kind of mood. Or croquet-on-the-back-lawn-would-be-lovely-thank-you kind of mood…
However, back to reality…
Macaroni and cheese is awesome and comforting and filling and delicious. And you can’t beat the homemade from scratch, roux plus milk plus cheese plus time in the oven kind. I love me some mac and cheese anyway I can get it. That stuff from a blue box, that tasty stovetop stuff that approximates the real thing…all good, but the classic is definitely the best, and not particularly hard, it just takes a little bit longer. And you can use all sorts of varieties of cheese, cheddar, monterey jack, goat cheese, blue cheese, muenster cheese…I made it in Spain once and used combination of gruyere (I think) and some cheese that seemed to be a cross between cheddar and american cheese, and it was still great. Last night I used sharp cheddar (1 lb.) gruyere (~8 oz.) and monterey jack (8 oz.) I just happened to have gruyere in the fridge, because of the gougeres that never were, or I probably would not have used the gruyere because it would have been difficult to find in my hood on a Sunday afternoon. In that case, more cheddar probably would have been the choice. And yes, you are reading that correctly, that is 2 lbs of cheese to 1 lb of pasta. Macaroni and CHEESE is really good for you.
The cheese sauce starts with a roux. Equal parts butter and flour in a large pot, butter melted, flour added and allowed to cook a bit to get rid of the raw flour taste.
Then, hot milk is whisked in a little at a time, and allowed to thicken. At this point, I seasoned it with dry mustard powder and copious amounts of fresh pepper. Some salt too, but that I am usually a bit more careful with, since the cheese can be salty. In the place of the mustard powder, you could use cayenne pepper, nutmeg, ras al hanout (I used this last time, and it was a great addition, it added a little je ne sais quoi) or whatever else gets your motor running.
Then…the cheese. It may be tempting to use pre grated cheese, but I wouldn’t. It is coated in corn starch to keep it from sticking, and is just kind of yuckier. I use the food processor to grate the cheese, but if you don’t have one, it is still worth it to grate it yourself. Or make whomever you are feeding grate it to earn their dinner.
Stir the cheese in until it is melted into a sauce, and then add the cooked pasta. I used the pipette shape, which I quite enjoyed, but any short stubby tube pasta will do just fine.
Then this combo goes into a buttered baking dish, and gets covered with toasted bread crumbs and a handful of cheese that I left out of the sauce, and then goes into the oven with foil for about a half hour, forty minutes, taking the foil off half way through. And then you end up with this…
The inside is creamy and awesome, and the top is crunchy from the crumbs and chewy from the cheese. Delish. It takes about a half an hour of prep time, and then the cooking time, but none of it is hard or requires too much thought. Perfect for when you need something comforting but not too involved. The plan was to serve this with roasted broccoli, which I will have to do for you soon, since it is fantastic, but I got so enthralled by drinking cava and hearing the engagement story, that I didn’t get around to it, so instead I just sliced up an avocado and some tomatoes from the farmer’s market and dinner was served. The cava was a great pairing actually because it was a dry one, and it cut through the richness of the cheesy goodness very well.
And with that we celebrated Meredith and Train Boy becoming betrothed. Apparently hanging out with me makes that happen these days. I am surrounded by people in love…
In other eating adventures last week, I used up the leftovers from my dinner party for a couple of different things. First, polenta with cockles, corn and shiitake sauce…tasty.
And then I used the pork belly for tacos. I fried up some corn tortillas, and sliced up some jack cheese, lettuce, tomato and avocado.
All in all, not a bad food week. Coming up: feeding a group on a Friday night. The cousins are coming up for a football weekend, and we will be dining chez Meghan on Friday. I have no idea yet what is on the menu.
Macaroni and Cheese (should serve eight)
1 lb short tube pasta
8 tbls butter, divided
6 tbls flour
4 cups milk
2 tsps dry mustard powder (if you are using cayenne or nutmeg, you won’t need this much spice, I’d cut it in half)
Lots of freshly ground pepper, and a couple pinches of salt
2 lbs melty cheese of your choice, grated – reserve a handful to sprinkle on top.
1 cupbreadcrumbs (I like panko)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, butter a large baking dish, and set aside.
Start a large pot of salted water boiling, and cook pasta al dente and drain.
At the same time, heat the milk to just under a boil and remove from heat.
In a large saucepan, melt 6 tbl of the butter over medium low heat (I use my dutch oven.) When the butter is melted, whisk in the flour 1 tbl at a time until combined. Let the roux bubble and cook until it starts to brown. Add the milk to the roux a bit at a time – I use a ladle – and whisk to combine. As the mixture thickens, add the mustard powder or seasoning of your choice, salt and pepper. Then add the grated cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted into the sauce. Taste for flavor and adjust to your liking. Add the drained pasta and stir to combine. Put the whole mixture into the baking pan, and set aside for a minute.
In a frying pan, melt the remaining 2 tbls of butter over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and toast until they are brown and buttery. Spread the breadcrumbs over the top of the macaroni and sprinkle the reserved handful of cheese on top.
Cover with foil and cook for 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil, and cook until the top is browned and crunchy, and the corners are bubbly. Remove the mac and cheese from the oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes to cool. Serve and enjoy!
PS: Word press wackiness tally. It HATES the work shiitake. Actually, it hates me, because I have been spelling shiitake wrong and ignoring it. So there you go. Also I had to spell out the 8 in serves 8 because of the parenthses. When I wrote serves 8 with parentheses, I actually ended up with a smily face wearing sunglasses emoticon. Oh WordPress.