Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese, with candied sweet potatoes, stewed tomatoes and collard greens

Macaroni and cheese—also called mac ‘n’ cheese in the USmacaroni cheese in the United Kingdom—is a dish of cooked macaroni pasta and a cheese sauce, most commonly cheddar. It can also incorporate other ingredients, such as breadcrumbs, meat and vegetables.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macaroni_and_cheese

I made macaroni and cheese as part of my black eyed peas soup beans meal. I suspect that for a lot of residents of Appalachia macaroni and cheese means Kraft, but since this website is all about recipes I create, I figured I better make it from scratch.

Mac and cheese is, of course, a very popular comfort food all over the country, and, as such, there are many variations. You can cook it in a saucepan on the stove, or top it with some crumbs and bake it. You can make it with Velveeta, or with a dozen different expensive imported cheeses at the same time. You can keep it basic or add bacon, or peas, or anything else that suits your fancy. Any way you choose to make it, you’ll have a bowl of warm, creamy, cheesy goodness to show for it.

I kept it relatively simple, going with only two cheeses. I recommend using a good portion of sharp cheddar for the classic American flavor, but you can really use whatever cheese you think would taste good. Whatever you do, grate your cheese fresh, don’t use pre-shredded cheese from the grocery store, because the anti-caking agents they add to it adversely affect how it melts into the sauce.

Time for a lesson in French sauces. A good macaroni and cheese starts with a mornay sauce, which in turn is made from béchamel. I guess we’re cooking in the style of Appalachia, so I could just call them white sauce and cheese sauce, but connecting those fancy, complicated-sounding, French names to simple everyday dishes is, in my experience, the most effective way to learn which name goes with which sauce. Many of the classic french sauces start with a roux. A roux is simply a mixture of flour and fat, usually butter. It is usually cooked for a minute or two to remove the raw flour taste and then whatever liquid you’re using for your sauce is added, and slowly heated, stirring constantly, until it thickens. Béchamel, the classic white sauce, uses milk as the liquid. To make béchamel into mornay you simply stir in grated cheese until it melts.

I went with the classic baked macaroni and cheese. Since the dish will continue to cook in the oven, I boiled the pasta for about a minute less than the package suggested. If you prefer the creamy stovetop version you should cook the pasta for the full time, and add all of the cheese to the sauce. Then just skip the breadcrumbs and baking steps and dig in!


Macaroni and cheese

Serves: 8-10
Prep: 15 minutes plus time to boil water
Bake: 25 minutes
Total: 40 minutes

3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 ⅔ cups gruyere, grated
6 Tablespoons all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
⅓ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 lb. elbow pasta
6 Tablespoons butter
3 cups whole milk
2 ¼ cups half and half
1 ½ cups bread crumbs
OR 
1 ½ cups panko bread crumbs

Optional:
¾ cup parmesan, grated
1 cup heavy cream, in place of equal amount of half and half 
⅞ teaspoon ground mustard
1 ¾ Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, for the topping
¼ cup parmesan for the topping

Preheat Oven to 350 F. Grease a 9×13 baking dish.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. 

Grate cheddar and gruyere and mix together. Set aside at room temperature.

Combine flour, salt, pepper and paprika in a small bowl. 

When water boils, cook pasta 1 minute less than package directions for al dente. Drain, toss with a little olive oil and set aside. 

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. When melted, whisk in flour mixture, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes. Pour in 1 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Add remaining milk and half and half, and cook, stirring, until sauce begins to thicken. Stir in 3 cups of cheese mixture until it is melted and creamy. 

Stir pasta into sauce until well mixed. Pour half of pasta mixture into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle on remaining cheese and top with remaining pasta. Sprinkle breadcrumb over the top and bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly. 

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