Mac and Cheese: This Is How We Do It

There are some dopey recipes for mac and cheese out there in internetland. Some instruct the cook to toss grated cheese and noodles together and then bake. Whaaaaaaat??? Life is short, people! Mac and cheese needs a nice cheese sauce, and a really incredible sauce is not difficult to make.  Just have everything ready to go (noodles cooked, cheeses grated) when you start the sauce and you’ll have your own killer mac and cheese in the oven in 20 minutes.

Real Mac and Cheese

For Real Mac and Cheese:

1 package shells, rigatoni, or other large, orifice-y pasta (16 oz.), cooked al dente. You need a pasta that will hold some of the sauce inside, so no tiny macaroni or penne, okay?  Also, I use whole grain pasta and you should consider it, too. It’s buried in cheese sauce anyway.

A vegetable. Chop and roast a head of cauliflower (as I did above) or a bunch of broccoli, lightly saute a pound of spinach, halve a pint of cherry tomatoes, etc. Something that will add texture and vitamins to round out this rich dish.

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. AP flour

3 C. milk

S & P

a tiny pinch of nutmeg (totally worth buying nutmeg)

1 # cheese, grated or ground.  Use a mix of 2-3 cheeses. I always use some good quality cheddar (Seaside is my favorite) plus a hard cheese like Parm or Manchego.  You can also add something interesting in there too, like blue cheese, goat gouda, or Emmenthaler.  As a general rule, use more of the soft cheese and less of the hard cheese, just be sure you have one pound (16 oz.) total.

10-12 large basil leaves, torn

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the pasta to al dente and set aside to cool. Cook your vegetable in advance if necessary. Any vegetable that is going to release a lot of water needs to be cooked first.

To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat sprinkle in the flour and whisk in to form a sand-like paste. Stir this mixture (called roux) regularly for about one minute until it starts to just barely turn a toasty color. Pour in the milk and whisk thoroughly and bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally. Once simmering, the sauce will start to thicken.  Add a generous pinch of salt and pepper and the tiny pinch or nutmeg and reduce the heat to low. Add in your cheeses, one handful at a time, whisking in between each addition to melt. Once all the cheese has been added you will have a nice, thick cheese sauce. Season to taste.

In a very large bowl, toss together the cooked pasta, the vegetable, the cheese sauce and the torn basil thoroughly.  Pour into a lightly greased 9 x 13 baking dish and cover with foil.  Tip: grease the side of the foil that will touch the pasta to prevent the cheese from sticking to it.

Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes, then uncover and increase the heat to 450 and bake for 10-15 additional minutes to brown the top of the casserole. Marvel at the realness.

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