Monday, September 12, 2011
Macaroni and Cheese: A Comforting Favorite
We are facing the first full week of school ahead and I must admit it’s a bit of a reality check. Summer really is over and it’s time to focus on homework, practicing the bass (both Sam and Isaac play bass in the school orchestra), after school sports, more homework, school paperwork and meetings ... my calendar has filled up quickly and I’m already missing the blank white squares of July and August. Sigh!
I am in need of comfort food! Macaroni and cheese springs to mind immediately. I found a classic version in Cook’s Illustrated a few years ago that I love and have been playing with the recipe ever since. I like to add some variety at times and get creative with the cheeses, increase the spice or change up the crumb topping. The basic sauce foundation of butter, flour and milk stays the same.
Below is my current version. It includes goat cheese in addition to the traditional cheddar, and I’ve made a buttery crumb topping with whole wheat panko bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Other cheese suggestions for the sauce are Gruyere, Monterey jack or a handful of feta. It makes enough for a 9x13 baking dish, or you can get fancy and present it in ramekins as a side dish. Or, do as I often do on a weeknight and serve it straight from the cooking pot without the crumb topping. No one seems to mind!
I hope this cheesy goodness adds warmth and comfort to the start of your week!
Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes enough for 1-9x13 pan (main course) or 10 ramekins (side dish)
1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni or your favorite shaped pasta
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and divided
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 cups milk (whole or lowfat is fine)
8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 ounces soft goat cheese (or you can use all cheddar cheese or another cheese of your choice)
Salt to taste
1 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Hot sauce for serving
In a large saucepan or soup pot (I use an 8 quart), bring water to boil and cook the macaroni until it is tender. Drain in a colander and set the macaroni aside.
In the same large saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour, mustard and cayenne pepper and whisk together for about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and simmer until it is the consistency of heavy cream, stirring often to prevent sticking (about 5 minutes).
Remove pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar and goat cheese until melted. Season to taste with salt. Add the macaroni and stir well.
In a medium sized bowl, stir together the panko bread crumbs, the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and the Parmesan cheese.
Spoon the macaroni and cheese into a 9x13 baking dish or into 10 ramekins (if using ramekins you may have a little leftover). Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top evenly. Broil until the bread crumbs are golden brown, rotating if necessary. Serve warm and enjoy!
**The macaroni and cheese can be prepared a day ahead (without crumb topping) and kept covered in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, reheat pan in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes (until heated through) and then sprinkle on the crumb topping and broil to finish. The macaroni and cheese also freezes well. Wrap tightly in plastic and freeze without the crumb topping. Defrost and follow the same directions for reheating.