Sunday, January 8, 2012

Baked Mac n' Cheese

Extra-sharp white cheddar.

Still reading? I thought so.

Who doesn’t love a good mac n’ cheese? I don't need a story to convince you to make this. This recipe is from Martha Stewart and it's a relatively simple mac n’ cheese to make when you've got the blues.

Clockwise from top: fontina, Gruyère, Parmigiano-Reggiano, white cheddar

Notes from the kitchen:
The original recipe suggests making breadcrumbs with white bread and butter. White bread is evil. I opted to use canned breadcrumbs since I love the way they crunch up during baking.

Martha’s recipe calls for only 8 oz. of macaroni, or half of a standard box. Since I’m used to pasta recipes adjusted for a pound of pasta, I neglected to read the fine print and threw the entire 16 oz. box of macaroni into the cheese sauce. It wasn’t until the following day when transferring the recipe to a card for my box that I noticed my mistake. That’s also after we were all raving about how delicious the mac n’ cheese was. Next time I’ll try it with 12 oz. and it should be perfect. If you want that oozy, Velveeta-like mac n’ cheese, use only 8 oz. of noodles.

The trick to making a good, thick mac n' cheese is in the béchamel sauce. In non-chef talk, it's made when you add milk to your roux (butter and flour mixture). Temperature is important here, but unless you burn your butter, let the flour clump up too much, or burn your milk, you should be fine.

You can easily spice up this recipe by adding 1/2 t. ground mustard, spinach, broccoli, peas, caramelized onions, or anything else your heart desires.

Mac n’ Cheese
Adapted from Martha Stewart, Winter 2009
About 8 servings

breadcrumbs, as desired, about 1/4-1/2 cup
8-16 oz. elbow macaroni (*see Notes from the Kitchen above)
3 T. butter
¼ c. diced yellow onion
¼ c. flour
3 c. milk
2 oz. fontina, grated (½ cup)
3 oz. Gruyère, grated (1 cup), 1/3 c. reserved for top
6 oz. extra-sharp white cheddar (2 cups), 1/3 c. reserved for top
2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup), ½ c. reserved for top
1/8 t. ground nutmeg
salt and pepper

Boil pasta 2-3 minutes less than recommended. Strain and rinse with cold water.
Preheat oven to 375°. Grease small dishes or a 1.5-quart casserole dish.

To make the cheese sauce, melt butter in a medium to large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Whisk in flour and stir until bubbling, about 45 seconds. Add milk and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon, until thickened, about 4 minutes. Add fontina, 2/3 c. Gruyère, 1 2/3 c. cheddar, ½ c. Parmigianno-Reggiano, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Add pasta to the sauce and stir to cover pasta. Pour into baking dish and sprinkle with reserved cheeses and cover with breadcrumbs. Bake until bubbling, about 25-35 minutes.

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