Mac and cheese might have been one of the first things I learned to make for myself. It was from a box, of course, but it was still quite a feat in my child’s mind. As I got older my brother and I would experiment with what flavors and spices we could add. Garlic powder was a hit. Sometimes we’d go crazy and add some red pepper flakes.
There are about a million and one variations of mac and cheese but sometimes it’s most comforting in the simplest form. Even this recipe isn’t quite the simplest because the noodles are sprinkled with breadcrumbs and baked, which I adore. But if you wanted something even more straightforward just skip the baking (remember to cook the noodles completely). You can use whatever cheese you have on hand, as long as it gets nice and creamy or melty when heated.
What was the first dish you learned to make for yourself?
Taste: Nothing like the artificial-tasting boxed mac & cheese. This is rich, slightly tangy, savory, with a hint of spicy warmth from the cayenne. How could something that has milk, butter, and two cheeses not taste good?
Texture: The dish is crunchy on top, thick and creamy inside.
Ease: I’ll admit it, it’s not as easy as boxed mac & cheese. But it’s perfect for a once in a while treat. And let’s face it. We should only be eating something this indulgent once in a while anyways.
Appearance: Who wouldn’t want to dive right in?
Pros: Oh so cheesy, creamy, and rich.
Cons: Does dirty a few dishes and requires your attention.
Would I make this again? Yes, but maybe next time I’ll add some cauliflower or broccoli. Or maybe bacon.
Baked Mac & Cheese
From How to Cook Everything
- 21/2 cups milk (low-fat is fine)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups grated white cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- pinch cayenne pepper
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup or more bread crumbs, preferably fresh
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Cook the milk with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 minutes later, turn off the heat and let stand.
Cook the pasta to the point where it is almost done but you would still think it needed another minute or two to become tender. Drain it, rinse it quickly to stop the cooking, and put it in a large bowl.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter; when it is foamy, add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture browns, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves from the milk and add about 1/4 cup of the milk to the hot flour mixture, stirring with a wire whisk all the while. As soon as the mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk and continue to do so until all the milk is used up and the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the cheddar and stir.
Pour the sauce over the noodles, toss in the Parmesan, and sprinkle with cayenne, salt, and pepper. Use the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to grease a 9 x 13-inch or similar-size baking pan and turn the pasta mixture into it. Top liberally with bread crumbs and bake until bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, about 15 minutes. Serve piping hot.