Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mom's Macaroni and Cheese

For those of you with a little more time on your hands, you will be pleased to know that Macaroni & Cheese does not necessarily have to come from a box. Unless you are a bachelor, of course.

Macaroni and Cheese is a very flexible dish-- it can be a showcase for gourmet cheeses by night, comfort food by day, and a tasty, but easy, potluck dish on the weekends.

I took this to a potluck and a friend asked for the recipe, so I am posting it for everyone to try. I have never really had a recipe for this--it's more of a 'process', as my daughters tell me. Basically, I make a roux, add liquid, salt, pepper, and my signature ingredient, nutmeg. Then I melt in the cheese and add to cooked pasta.

This recipe as is makes enough for a medium sized Corning Ware dish, and serves 4-6 people.

Mom's Mac & Cheese

5 Tablespoons butter
5 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
dash nutmeg (optional)
4-6 ounces of Velveta cheese
2 cups of uncooked pasta
garnish of parmesan cheese or bread crumbs tossed in butter (optional)

To make a roux: Melt 5 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 5 tablespoons of flour to form a paste. With the pan still off the heat, slowly, a little at a time, stir in 2 cups of milk. Once you have about 1/3 of the milk incorporated into the paste, you can just dump in the rest. If you add too much too quickly, you'll get lumps. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I add a few gratings of nutmeg, because I add nutmeg to anything with eggs or cheese in it.)

Adding cheese: Return the pan to the burner over medium heat and bring to just boiling, stirring frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Add cheese and allow to melt in. I often use Velveta cheese, about 2-3 inches off a two pound block. Cut it in cubes, approximately ¾ inch. You can use less and you can try other kinds. I've used white cheddar on special occassions. And I think I have used straight cheddar but find that a little greasy. Grate and add slowly, allowing to melt, if you use harder cheeses like cheddar. Some day I will try it with asiago or other similar cheeses, which I'm sure would be excellent.

Cook the pasta: You can start the pasta at the same time you start the sauce since cooking pasta requires little attention. Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions.
I like to cool my pasta by at least running cold water over it for a minute or two. I think you get a firmer pasta in the end. If you add the sauce to hot pasta, the pasta gets kind of mushy. Elbow macaroni is the most common, but there is not reason you can't be creative and try different shapes. Add the sauce to the cooked pasta.

Bake: at 350 for 30-40 minutes until bubbly and browned as much as you like. For a special touch, you can also top with parmesan or bread crumbs tossed in a little butter during the last 10-15 minutes of baking.

Adjusting the recipe: To make more or less Mac and Cheese, I adjust the milk and pasta. I always use the same amount of milk that I use uncooked pasta and adjust the roux accordingly.

If you want a more or less saucier product, adjust the ratio of roux to milk. For the roux, the butter (you can use margarine or even oil) equals the flour. Less/more roux makes a thinner/thicker sauce respectively.

Lots of room to adjust this one to be as saucy or cheesy as you like!

I knew I would be short on time the night I made this for the potluck, so I made the pasta and the sauce the night before and combined them right before I baked them. I set my oven to delay start, came home to a pre-heated oven, baked the pasta, and left 45 minutes later with a hot dish for the potluck. I find if I combine the ingredients the night before, it comes out too dry because the pasta absorbs too much of the liquid from the sauce.

Hope you enjoy it.

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