May 17, 2005
Will the Real Macaroni & Cheese Please Stand Up?

MACACHEE.JPGWhen I was at university one of my best friends was a strange kind of fanatic of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. When he volunteered to provide the food for our monthly dormitory meetings not even his staunchest friends would show up because we knew what to expect. Tom took the neon-orange processed macaroni & cheese one stingy step further than its usual nastiness: he refused to use any milk in making it, resulting it bright orange clumps of "cheese" powder in a clumpy mess of pasta. Ick. Even the potheads wouldn't eat it.

For my own part, I had a macaroni & cheese obsession too, but it was with the Stouffers frozen version that you could pop in the microwave. It would come out bubbly and creamy with a crisp browned cheese edge. Still, somewhere in my heart of hearts I knew it wasn't the real thing. There was a better macaroni and cheese out there somewhere.

When I moved to Europe, I no longer had access to either the Kraft (whew!) or the Stouffers version of macaroni and cheese and so I started to experiment on my own. I started with the Fannie Farmer version (that old standby) and found it to be bland, bland, bland. Over the years, I've improved on the base recipe until I arrived at a place where I have a big thick chunk of cheesy goodness, crusty on the outside and creamy on the inside. It's the ultimate comfort food and a true indulgence. I make it on cold nights when my husband is away and I know I can nibble away at it uninterrupted. I usually make enough "for two" and then spend the rest of the evening sneaking into the kitchen to hack off another bite until there is none left and I'm afraid to confront the kitchen scale in the morning.

Macaroni & Cheese the Meg Way

175g (about a cup and a half) dried macaroni
30g (about 1/4 cup) butter plus a Tbs more
30g (ditto) flour
215g (about 2 cups grated) very sharp cheddar cheese (the sharper the better)
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
salt, pepper
2 slices of proscuitto or other delicate ham
optional: mustard powder

Drop the macaroni in a pot of boiling water. While it is cooking (follow the instructions on the package as to timing, as it can vary) begin the cheese sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add the flour and stir well until it turns nutty brown. (Okay, yes, this is your basic bechamel sauce: if you already know this part just skip reading!) Slowly add the milk, whisking all the while to get a smooth sauce. I usually use a metal whisk and beat like mad because I'm too impatient to heat the milk first as you are supposed to do. It also makes cooking that little bit more interesting as you ride the edge of the crest, wondering if this is the time you'll fail to get those lumps out of the sauce. (Yes, that's rather pathetic.) Once the sauce is hot and lump-free start gradually adding the grated cheese, reserving about half a cup. The amount of cheese indicated above, by the way, is a bare minimum: the more you add, the more flavor. Flavor = good.

If you want to add some mustard powder, now is the time to do it. Personally, I don't find it necessary but to each his or her own. Tear the proscuitto in small pieces and stir it into the sauce. Add salt and pepper generously and taste to make sure you have enough. (Flavour = what?)

Remove the sauce from the fire. Take your little pan (ideally about 15cmx20cm and about 8 cm deep) and butter it well. Pour half the bread crumbs into the pan and tip them around, as if you were buttering and flouring a cake pan. This is my own innovation and I'm rather proud of it. Not only does it give a little more crunch to the edges of the macaroni and cheese but the pasta comes out cleanly, just like a cake. Magic!

Once the pasta is al dente, drain it well and mix it well with the cheese sauce. Pour into the bread-crumbed and buttered pan sprinkle the remaining cheese and then the remaining bread crumbs over the top and salt it again. Bake in a hot oven (200c/400f) until bubbly and crusty brown on the top.

Virtuously eat half with a nice green salad for dinner, telling yourself you'll reserve the rest for lunch the next day. Try to resist the second half for the rest of the evening.

Note: some might take exception to this definition of a "real" macaroni & cheese. The "real" macaroni and cheese is undoubtedly an authentic Italian dish made with loving care and full of flavour. What I have spent so many hours trying to achieve is the ultimate American comfort food, something that would remind you of your childhood but actually in some ways taste better. I'm not there yet on the apple crumble but I think I have the macaroni & cheese taped...

Posted by Meg in Sussex at May 17, 2005 8:22 AM | TrackBack Print-friendly version
Comments

I call the corner piece!

Posted by barrett on May 17, 2005 at 8:43 AM

I also have a sneaking love for Stouffer's mac and cheese--I always keep a few in the freezer for times when I'm to lazy to make the homemade.

Posted by mary g on May 17, 2005 at 9:34 AM

Where does the reserved half cup of cheese go?

Posted by Oscar on May 17, 2005 at 10:41 AM

Ay! On top before you sprinkle the breadcrumbs - thanks for pointing it out. I always forget something!

It's corrected now!

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 17, 2005 at 10:51 AM

Looks delicious! Our toddler's current favorite dinner is mac and cheese. I made Emeril's version a few weeks ago - delicious stuff. :)

Posted by Sweetnicks on May 17, 2005 at 2:37 PM

You weigh yourself using a kitchen scale? I don't think you have to worry about putting on weight.

Posted by Peter on May 17, 2005 at 2:52 PM

Um, that was supposed to be bathroom scale. Or elephant scale. But definitely not KITCHEN scale!

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 17, 2005 at 3:32 PM

I've been cooking Macaroni and Cheese on the bbq grill for the last year, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I love the smoky flavor of it. I do have a place in my heart for good old Stouffer's, though...

Posted by Boston's Hidden Restaurants on May 17, 2005 at 10:01 PM

I love to make homemade mac&cheese with all the random "leftover" cheese that accumulates in the 'fridge. Its also a good way to use up random pasta that's taking up space in the pantry. The last dish had extra sharp cheddar, cream cheese, roquefort and gouda. Oh, and elbow and spiral pasta. mmm mmm good.

Posted by becky on May 18, 2005 at 5:48 PM

Boston, how exactly does one barbecue a mac-a-chee? I'm intrigued...

Becky, I also like to use up odd bits from the cupboard this way. It seems like I've always got about a quarter of a cup of at least three different pastas hanging about at any given time. And those bits of cheese have more flavor too, don't they?

Posted by Meg in Paris on May 19, 2005 at 2:04 AM

I just made this mac and cheese recipe and I am here to say it is by far the best one out there - believe you me, I have tried them all. Perfection!

Posted by Janey on August 26, 2005 at 10:39 PM

My husband, my brother and I ate the whole dish going back and forth for more. No way we could save the rest. It's just the best! Love that crust. Oooo La La.

Posted by Dyan on December 16, 2005 at 11:40 AM

My husband, my brother and I ate the whole dish going back and forth for more. No way we could save the rest. It's just the best; and that crust, Oooo La La.

Posted by Dyan on December 16, 2005 at 11:42 AM

ever tried mac and cheese bits theyre like chicken nuggets buth with that godly pasta for a center

Posted by Justin on May 25, 2006 at 6:32 PM

the absolute best mac n cheese has some additions, so maybe not 'traditional'. I add a little spinach, loads of pine nuts, and gorgonzola..... mmmmmmmm .......

But this recipe looks sooo tasty. I'm gonna try making it plain, as my son hates the green bits.

Posted by Christina on February 19, 2007 at 10:46 AM

the absolute best mac n cheese has some additions, so maybe not 'traditional'. I add a little spinach, loads of pine nuts, and gorgonzola..... mmmmmmmm .......

But this recipe looks sooo tasty. I'm gonna try making it plain, as my son hates the green bits.

Posted by Christina on February 19, 2007 at 10:50 AM

I added a pinch of cayenne and a pinch of nutmeg to this allready tasty dish. Ahhh! Comfort Food!!1

Posted by Shelley on November 8, 2007 at 3:07 PM

Try using Cheetos or Cheese Doritos instead of the breadcrumbs, YUMMY!!!

Posted by Mike on February 29, 2008 at 1:43 PM
Post a comment









Remember personal info?










Please be sure you read and agree with our ADVERTISING POLICY before posting.