Wednesday, February 25, 2009


There are times when I get completely fixated on one particular foodstuff. Usually it's something that I haven't had in a long time that, for whatever reason, pops into my head and then I cannot rest until I've made a batch. It doesn't have to be anything fancy or even remotely gourmet. For example, for the past two days I have been completely obsessed with having ramen noodles for lunch. The kind that come in a brick with a powdery salty soup base for $.30 per serving. It's sick, really, because I have a pot of homemade ribollita in the refrigerator, yet I keep reaching for the ramen. I am helpless against the powerful sway of the unexplained food craving.

The same thing happened to me last week, but at least the targeted foodstuff then was something homemade and delicious, rather than an inexpensive staple stored in a milk crate next to every college freshman's hotpot. Last week, I was all about macaroni and cheese. Good, from-scratch, baked macaroni and cheese. I thought about it and thought about it and thought about it until I finally made Husband go to the store and stock up on extra-sharp cheddar and Barilla's wonderful ridged elbow macaroni. I love Barilla's elbows so much more than other brands, because the ridges have a knack for holding on tight to the cheese sauce, much like Dan Hill wants to hold his woman until he dies, 'til they both break down and cry. In addition to macaroni and cheese, the other thing I thought a lot about last week was Sirius' re-airing of retro 1970s Casey Kasem countdowns.

So, even though it's a very basic recipe, I thought I should share my mac and cheese with you. Because every cook needs a good mac and cheese up her sleeve for those cold winter nights when only comfort food will do. Or for those warm summer nights when only comfort food will do. Comfort food knows no season. I like this recipe because the cheese sauce is not at all mealy or grainy and it is the perfect amount for a pound of pasta. The macaroni is richly coated by the sauce but isn't drowning a cheesy death.

Extra bonus: if you manage to have any leftovers, it reheats very well the next day, especially if you use the oven or toaster oven to re-crisp the panko topping. But if you're anything like me -- and you have a husband who loves pretty much whatever you make for him and a nephew who scoffs at Kraft macaroni and cheese and will only eat the good homemade stuff -- you won't have any leftovers. 

But what you will have is "Sometimes When We Touch" stuck in your head.



6 T. unsalted butter
6 T. flour
3 c. whole milk
1/8 t. freshly-grated nutmeg
1/8 t. cayenne
3/4 t. kosher salt
1 lb. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated and divided
1 lb. elbow macaroni, with ridges
1/2 c. panko

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

Make a roux. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly for about 7 minutes to cook away the raw-flour taste. You don't have to measure your flour in perfect little tablespoon-sized heaps, as Husband did for me here, though it is sort of cute:

Add the milk and whisk to combine. Add the nutmeg, cayenne and salt. Bring the milk mixture to a boil, whisking frequently. (The thickening power of the roux will not be in full effect until the mixture reaches a boil.) Add the grated cheese, reserving about 1/2 c. for the topping. Switch to a wooden spoon and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is well blended. Reduce heat to low and stir frequently to make sure the sauce doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

Cook the macaroni to a minute or so before al dente -- it will continue cooking in the oven and you don't want it to be overcooked and mushy. Drain the pasta and add it to the cheese sauce, stirring to combine. Transfer to a casserole dish and top with the reserved cheese and panko.

Place the casserole on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges are bubbly.

Makes 6 hefty portions. And you want your portions to be hefty when you're talking homemade macaroni and cheese.


Unknown said...

why are you blogging on company time

Dianne said...

It was all set up...I just hit "publish"!

Unknown said...

was your finger to tired last night

Dianne said...

It was. I fell asleep before I could push the button. It was really pathetic.

Anonymous said...

I love panko topping on my mac and cheese, too. What did we ever use before we had panko?

Dianne said...

Honestly Lydia, I have no idea what I did before panko. So glad you agree!