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Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 45 minutes
One of the most popular recipes in the original How to Cook Everything, which I attribute to too many people growing up with what the Canadians call “Kraft dinner.” The real thing is rich, filling, delicious, and dead easy. You can change the type of cheese you use: Try blue cheese, goat cheese, smoked Gouda, or even mascarpone. Or mix in some crisp-cooked chunks of thick-cut bacon or pancetta, about 1/2cup.
21/2cups milk (low-fat is fine)
2 bay leaves
1 pound elbow, shell, ziti, or other cut pasta
4 tablespoons (1/2stick) butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
11/2cups grated cheese, like sharp cheddar or Emmental
1 /2cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1 /2cup or more bread crumbs, preferably fresh
1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
2. Heat the milk with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 minutes later, turn off the heat and let stand. Cook the pasta in the boiling water to the point where you would still think it needed another minute or two to become tender. Drain it, rinse it quickly to stop the cooking, and put it in a large bowl.
3. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter; when it is foamy, add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture browns, about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaves from the milk and add about 1/4cup of the milk to the hot flour mixture, stirring with a wire whisk all the while. As soon as the mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk, and continue to do so until all the milk is used up and the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the cheddar or Emmental and stir.
4. Pour the sauce over the pasta, toss in the Parmesan, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use the remaining 1 tablespoon butter to grease a 9 ×13-inch or like-size baking pan and turn the pasta mixture into it. (You can make the dish to this point, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day; return to room temperature before proceeding.) Top liberally with bread crumbs and bake until bubbling and the crumbs turn brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve piping hot.
Simpler Macaroni and Cheese. The ingredients are layered and cooked together so it’s less creamy: For Step 3, butter the baking pan with an extra 1 or 2 tablespoons butter. Layer in one-third of the pasta, sprinkle with half of the flour, fleck with half of the butter, cover with about 1/2cup of the grated cheeses, pour half of the heated milk over the top, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat the layers, using the remaining flour, butter, and milk, and top with the remaining pasta, cheeses, and bread crumbs. Bake until bubbling and browned on top, about 30 minutes.
Rich Macaroni and Cheese. Reduce the milk to 3/4 cup. Omit the bay leaves, the first 3 tablespoons butter, and all of the flour. Substitute mascarpone for the grated cheddar. Add about a cup or so sautéed wild mushrooms (see page 313), if you like, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves (or 11/2 teaspoons dried sage). Cook the pasta as directed. Mix together the milk, mascarpone, and Parmesan in a large bowl. Add the cooked pasta and the sage, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and combine. Proceed with Step 4.
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