Old fashioned macaroni and cheese – the kind that doesn’t come from a box- has got to be the top comfort food in the United States. Rich cheese sauce, gooey chunks of cheese, crispy crumb topping – is your mouth watering yet?
Guess what? You can make this!
My mother came from a family of seven. Each of the girls, and the sisters-in-law had a specialty that they brought to each family gathering. Being in Michigan the foods were likely to be jell-o salads, macaroni dishes, and such. Aunt Bernie was, I think, the hands down best cook in the family but Aunt Lou made far and away the most magical, cheesiest, most amazing macaroni salad in the history of the known world.
The edges of the macaroni were just a little crunchy and when you pulled the spoon out of the dish long, steaming strands of cheese would clutch at the dish until you took your finger and pulled those cheese threads away. The top was strewn with crispy, buttery, bread crumbs and black pepper. I can taste it to this day. I swear there has never been anything like it and I sure can’t do it justice, either. She obviously had the touch.
That doesn’t mean I don’t try. This baked mac & cheese is full of old fashioned goodness, crispy, buttery bread crumbs, and those tell-tale strands of gooey cheese. The cheesiness comes from two kinds of cheese used in two different ways. I like to use Panko for the top because it stays crispier but homemade bread crumbs are fine, too. For this particular recipe I added a tablespoon of smoke flavoring, sliced hot dogs that had been grilled (great way to use leftovers, right?) and a 1/2 cup of finely chopped pepperoncini. Mac & Cheese is versatile, you can add almost anything. I think that is one reason it became so popular.
You can actually put together the casserole the night before, leaving off the crumbs. When you get home from work the next evening, or get home from sky diving, or whatever it is you do then add the crumbs and slide it into the oven for a half hour while you relax with a glass of wine and your favorite reality show.
That’s it. I promise you, you will love this stuff. Oh, here’s a hint. As much as I hate to say this – overcook the macaroni just slightly. You don’t want it a la dente for this dish. When it is soft (but not so much that it’s mushy) then it absorbs the cheese sauce a bit more. There is something about all of the textures and flavors that is just downright delicious.
Oh… by the way. This recipe starts with a roux, a cooked combination of flour and butter. If this is not done right the entire recipe will be off. Undercooked and it will taste like raw flour – over cooked and it will taste scorched. So here’s how you do it.
To Make Perfect Roux
- Starting with a low fire (or lowest heat on an electric) melt the butter in a heavy saucepan until it foams. Don’t let the butter brown.
- Add the flour all at once and stir constantly.
- Carefully watch the color of the butter and flour mixture. Don’t worry about it lumping up just keep it moving.
- When the mixture becomes a light golden brown slowly add warmed milk and cream, whisking constantly.
- The process takes about eight minutes at my house but don’t try to go by the clock. You have to go by the color.
Just out of curiosity, does your family have that same sort of thing with the cooks? What are their specialties?
- 1 (16 ounce) package elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 tablespoons flour
- 2 teaspoons mustard powder
- 2 cups milk, warm not hot
- 2 cups heavy cream, warm, not hot
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Fresh ground black pepper, generously to taste
- 2 cups medium cheddar cheese, shredded (about ½ pound)
- 3 cups sharp cheddar, shredded (This is about ¾ pound…I use Tillamook)
- 1 cup diced Swiss cheese (about ¼ pound)
- 2 cups breadcrumbs
- ⅓ cup unsalted butter
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a large, heavy saucepan melt the butter until it foams.
- Add the flour mixed with salt and pepper and whisk until blended. (This is a roux)
- Cook until the roux is a light golden brown moving the mixture around the pan constantly so it doesn’t scorch
- Mix milk and cream..
- Pour milk mixture in slowly, whisking constantly.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and cook while stirring until the mixture thickens – about ten minutes.
- Remove from heat.
- Stir in mustard.
- Add about a ¼ cup of the hot mixture to the beaten egg a tablespoon at a time, beating well so the egg doesn’t curdle.
- Add the warm milk and egg mixture back into the mixture in the pan, whisking constantly.
- Stir in 3 cups of the cheddar and 1 cup of the medium cheddar until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
- Fold in the cooked, drained macaroni and the diced Swiss cheese.
- Spoon the macaroni mixture into a buttered 13 x 9 inch casserole dish.
- Melt the remaining ⅓ cup of butter in a high sided frying pan.
- Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until the crumbs are coated with butter and crispy.
- Add the breadcrumbs to the top of the macaroni and cheese and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.
- Let the casserole stand for five minutes before serving.