Monday, February 22, 2010

Heaven-Sent Macaroni and Cheese


Last week when my nieces from Rhode Island were visiting, I asked the 9-year-old what she would like for dinner. "Do you have any macaroni and cheese?" she asked.

"Sure, I'll make you some macaroni and cheese," I said, and began assembling the ingredients on the counter top, including pasta, milk, butter, and cheese.

She looked confused. "Where's the box?" she asked.

"What box?"

"The box that the macaroni and cheese comes in," she said.

"I don't use the kind that comes in a box. I'm going to make you macaroni and cheese from scratch," I said. "Do you think it'll be better than the one in the box?"

"Mmmm... I don't know. We'll see," she said.

She watched intently as I began making the macaroni and cheese. When I poured the shells into the boiling water, she asked, "Where are the elbows?"

"I'm using shells instead of elbows," I said.

"Mmm...." she replied quietly.

I was dealing with one shrewd mac n' cheese eater.

She observed silently as I whisked the cheese sauce made with both sharp white Cheddar and Gruyere until slow, large bubbles rose to the surface, gurgled, then popped. When it was irresistibly thick and creamy, I poured it over the hot pasta and stirred vigorously.

As it baked it the oven, the assertive aroma of Gruyere cheese permeated the kitchen. "That doesn't smell like macaroni and cheese," she said.

"Uh-oh," I thought to myself. "I went too far. I shouldn't have used Gruyere."

"But it still smells good," she added.

"Whew," I thought, "that was a close one."

As I removed the dish from the oven, she was impressed by its golden, bubbly, cheese topping. "Oooh, that looks good. It's all crunchy on top. The one in the box doesn't do that," she said.

"Ha! I've got her now," I thought.

Of course, what really mattered was the taste. I placed a big wedge of macaroni and cheese in front of her, anxiously awaited her evaluation. She took a mouthful. There was a slight hesitation as she held it in her mouth. Then she began chewing and smiling. She swallowed. Her eyes rolled upward, and she said breathlessly, "Auntie Susan, this is heaven."

That's right, baby. Score one for Auntie Susan.

heaven-sent macaroni and cheese

Heaven-Sent Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 6
Print recipe only here.

1 pound small shells, or other macaroni, such as elbows
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sharp white Cheddar cheese, plus 1/2 cup for the top
1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese, plus 1/2 cup for the top
a generous amount of salt and black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a deep 2 1/2 quart baking dish with butter or cooking spray.

2. Cook pasta in salted water, about 2 minutes short of being fully cooked; it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain the cooked pasta, but do not rinse. Place in a large bowl.

3. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Slowly add milk, whisking continuously, until it reaches a boil. Reduce heat, and cook 3-5 minutes, stirring constantly. Add cheese and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Whisk until smooth; remove from heat. Add cooked pasta to the cheese sauce, and toss well. Pour into the prepared baking dish and top with remaining 1 cup cheese. Bake until the cheese bubbles around the edges and the top turns golden brown, about 35-40 minutes.

You might also enjoy these pasta recipes from Food Blogga: 
Italian Macaroni and Cheese with Pancetta
Creamy Goat Cheese and Beet Green Pasta
Penne with Italian-American "Gravy," Meatballs, and Sausage
Orange Cauliflower Mac 'n Cheese (yes, it's healthier and good)
Cellentani with Lemony Broccoli, Toasted Walnuts, and Breadcrumbs

You might also enjoy these macaroni and cheese recipes:
Crab Mac n' Cheese recipe from Use Real Butter
Mushroom-Herb Macaroni and Cheese recipe from Brown Eyed Baker
Chef Terrance Brennan's Gourmet Mac n' Cheese recipe from Picky Palate
Slow-Roasted Tomato Macaroni and Cheese recipe from The Perfect Pantry