Like many of you, I have a picky toddler who will eat almost nothing. I like to tell people that he is subsisting on goldfish crackers and air, but that is an exaggeration -- it is actually goldfish crackers, air, and macaroni and cheese. He is literally staying alive on cheesy pasta. My husband is also a lover of mac and cheese, and often waits for our son to wander away from the table so that he can swoop down on the leftovers. Frankly, if I have to serve one more meal from the blue box, I am going to have a breakdown, so I found this recipe for a somewhat more sophisticated mac and cheese that is fancy enough for company but tasty enough to appeal to my guys.
For a printer-friendly copy of the recipe, click here:
1 lb. macaroni, penne, or ziti pasta
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour (or Wondra)
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper
2 cups (8 oz.) grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
To start, go ahead and cook your pasta. If you want to add salt to the water to flavor it, knock yourself out. I used mini-ziti, and the whole box cooked in 7 minutes, but check your own box for the appropriate cooking time. Drain the pasta well. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a deep casserole dish (I think it is the 3 quart size). Add half of the macaroni to the dish. Top with half of the cheese.
Now to make the sauce. You are going to be making a roux (pronounced "roo", like "kangaroo"). Don't panic! I know that you think that only Julia Child can pull this off, but it is really super-easy. Start by melting your butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When it is melted, add the flour or Wondra. I HIGHLY recommend the Wondra over regular flour. It is just flour that is milled super-fine and that has apparently been magically enhanced not to clump. If you want a smooth sauce, it's the way to go. Use a whisk to bring it to the butter party. Now add the milk, continuing to whisk away.
Yeah, I know. It doesn't look like much now. But see ... no clumps! You can now add as much salt and pepper as you wish. I added salt to ours but no pepper. Pepper just doesn't seem to go with mac & cheese to me, but if it does in your house, go crazy. Keep whisking as it cooks. You will know that it is ready to come off when it thickens up (usually 3 or 4 minutes -- if an hour goes by, you might consider adding more flour).
When you roux is moderately thick, pour half of it over the mac and cheese in the casserole dish. Ooh, it starts to melt the cheese immediately! Keep control of yourself and add another layer of macaroni, cheese, and the rest of the sauce. The roux will trickle down through the pasta, melting the cheese, and making it creamy throughout.
Almost done! Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top, then add a little paprika just for a bit of color. I always go too heavy on the paprika and look like a stroke patient, so try to be careful with it.
Slide it into the oven and bake it for 20-30 minutes, or until it is brown on top and a little bubbly.
You can see that the cheese has melted and it is a little crispy on top. This makes enough pasta to feed your average-sized family for days and is a nice, warm, bowl of goodness. Comfort food doesn't get any better than this.