Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cozy Macaroni and Cheese

This is not the macaroni and cheese I grew up with.

In fact, it never occurred to me that I could make macaroni and cheese from scratch until Emma was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  Up until that point, I had always eaten macaroni and cheese from the trusty blue box, or frozen Stouffer's.  Even as a kid.  Neither were gourmet, but they were decent enough.

So when I began learning how to make it from scratch, I decided to use my Aunt Judy's recipe.  She's absolutely wonderful in the kitchen, and every time I eat this macaroni and cheese I think of her.  When the aroma of freshly baked macaroni and cheese envelopes me, it's like she's wrapping her arms around me.

It makes me smile.

While we often attribute the invention of macaroni and cheese to Kraft or Velveeta, this is definitely not the case.  Italians had been mixing different variations of fresh noodles, cheese, and butter together for centuries, and it was actually considered an upper-class dish for quite some time.

It is said that Thomas Jefferson introduced macaroni and cheese to the United States after a trip to Italy, in which he brought back a pasta machine, and most likely a recipe or two.  It is said that he introduced macaroni and cheese to the White House in 1802.

Eventually, recipes began popping up in household cookbooks with slight variations.

It wasn't until 1937 that Kraft introduced their boxed version of macaroni and cheese as a convenience food to the American market.  This revolutionized the way people at macaroni and cheese, and it soon became a family favorite because it was fast, cheap, and easy to make.

However, I must say that there is nothing better than to make macaroni and cheese from scratch.  It's comfort in a bowl.  Along the way I have learned some things to make it even better.

What Pasta to Use?
While elbow macaroni is a wildly popular choice for macaroni and cheese, it isn't the only pasta that can be used for this dish.  You can actually use any tubular (I love that word) pasta.  Try experimenting with different types... corkscrews, rotini, penne, shells...anything that has a large surface area and ridges or holes to soak up as much of the cheese sauce as possible.  That's why pasta shapes like spaghetti don't work, the sauce slides right off.

What Cheese(es) to Use?
We all know that cheddar cheese is the go-to cheese for this dish.  But again, experiment with different cheeses.  However, you want the cheese sauce to be creamy, not lumpy, so it is important to choose the right type of cheese.  Hard cheeses like cheddar and Gruyere are the best because they melt evenly.  You can use Parmesan in small amounts.  Soft cheeses are not good at all for macaroni and cheese because are either stringy or won't melt at all.

Click here for printable recipe (Word document)

The Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine (1 stick)
3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour**
2 cups of milk
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese (or the equivalent of different cheeses)
1 lb (16 ounces) dried pasta**
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

1. First things first, you need to boil your pasta.**  Don't forget to salt the water.  While the pasta is cooking, you can continue on with the roux.

2. To make the roux, melt the butter in a saucepan, then steadily add in the flour**, whisking constantly so that it doesn't clump.  Continue stirring until the butter and flour mixture  becomes golden brown.

3. Stir in the milk, making sure you don't stop whisking.  You don't want to burn your milk!  Stir until thickened.  You now have your white sauce!  This should only take a few minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the stove burner and stir in the cheeses.  Now you have your cheese sauce!

5. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir until all the pasta is coated evenly.  Pour the pasta in to the casserole dish, sprinkle generously with breadcrumbs, and pop it in the oven for about 25 minutes.  Just until the top browns and the sides bubble.

You'll know its done when you smell the creamy goodness and your belly growls in anticipation.

** To make gluten-free, I use my basic gluten-free all-purpose flour, and Tinkyada Gluten-Free Pasta.


ladyfi said...

Macaroni cheese is a good old British children's food - and always made from scratch. We often put mustard into the sauce.

Susan said...

Enjoyed your article, as well as your recipe, for mac and cheese. Our family get-togethers always include large dishes of this scrumptious dish and we can count on no leftovers! I've also tried adding a slice or two of swiss cheese with all of the sharp cheddar to give it just a little something something that makes it slightly different! I also sometimes add a few dashes or so of garlic and onion powder.

Linda said...

I totally agree that mac 'n cheese (from scratch)is a comfort food. My kids love it too. I am really going to miss it now that I'm dairy free. Thanks for linking up at Gluten-Free Wednesday. Please add a link back within your post.

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