What is it about the combination of pasta and a rich cheese sauce that evokes the most wonderful feel good memories of good times, childhood, family, and home? I am a mom to three children ranging from 25 to 13 years of age. Undoubtedly, all three of them will agree that mac ‘n cheese is top 3 of their favorite home foods.
For some, the iconic blue box with the orange cheese powder is a quick and tasty meal. Others like the yellow box with the thick gooey processed cheese packet. I know that these both hold a fond childhood memory and nostalgia associated with eating them at home or in a College dorm. For me, the best is homemade from scratch macaroni and cheese; made with an unctuous and creamy Bechamel sauce; infused with the flavor of grated cheddar and Emmental cheese. Hands down, this is good stuff and will make you appreciate the humble dish as a masterpiece unto itself!
Macaroni and Cheese Gratin
8 oz pasta (macaroni elbows, shells, fusilli, penne; as you like)
4 ozs shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Tete de Maure cheese, grated* or
1/4 cup Emmantel cheese, grated
4 ozs Velveeta cheese, cubed or 4 ozs American cheese, grated
2 cups milk
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 tsp yellow mustard
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp grated onion
1/2 tsp all purpose seasoning (like Lawry’s)
1/2 tsp tabasco sauce *optional
1/2 Cup water reserved from boiling the pasta
2 tbsp breadcrumbs + 2 tbsp grated cheese for topping
Boil the pasta in water according to the package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup liquid when draining finished pasta.
In a deep casserole on medium heat, melt butter and add flour stirring constantly to make a roux. The flour mixture should brown slightly.
Add 1 cup of milk and whisk briskly to ensure that the roux is well mixed into the milk. This is an important step or there could be lumps in your sauce. When all the flour mixture has dissolved, add the remaining milk, and the grated onion. Incorporate the mustard, tabasco, black pepper and seasoning salt.
Lower the heat, and add the cheeses. Stir briskly until cheeses are melted and well combined. If the mixture is too thick, thin it out with some of the reserved pasta water. Remove from the heat and add the cooked pasta. Make sure that all the pasta has been well incorporated into the cheese sauce.
Butter an 8″X 8″ pyrex dish or a 2 qt container of any other form and pour the pasta mixture in. Top with grated cheese and breadcrumb mixture.
Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes until golden brown.
Note: you can add in several other ingredients of your choice such as sauteed bacon bits, your favorite sausage, pieces of steamed lobster or shrimp.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish or 3-4 as a complete meal