Few things are as good as a steaming bowl of homemade macaroni and cheese, especially when it doesn’t come out of a box. There’s something very satisfying about making this classic dish yourself. And it tastes a whole lot better than anything made in a factory!
Yield: Serves 4 - 6
1 1 pound box penne pasta
1/2 stick Butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
a big splash white wine
4 cups milk
1 12 ounce can unsweetened evaporated milk, or 1 1/2 cups regular milk
1 pound medium aged cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon paprika
a pinch cayenne pepper
a sprinkle or two salt
1/2 loaf Italian bread, torn into large pieces
a generous splash olive oil
Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C).
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in lots of boiling salted water.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir for several minutes until it softens and flavours the butter. Add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until a smooth paste forms (the roux). Combining the butter and flour into a roux first helps evenly distribute the flour throughout the sauce and prevents lumps.
Continue cooking a few more minutes as the roux toasts and develops a bit of flavour. Slowly stir in the wine and continue stirring until the mixture is smooth again.
Add both milks and switch to a whisk, mixing until the sauce is smooth again. Continue whisking until the mixture is very thick, a few minutes longer.
Stir in the cheeses, Dijon mustard, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt. Stir the cooked pasta into the cheese mixture. Pour everything into a 9- x 13-inch (3.5 L) ovenproof casserole or baking dish.
Toss the bread with a splash or two of olive oil, then sprinkle it evenly over the top of the cheese mixture. Bake until it is heated through and the bread topping is [AU: replaced “breadcrumbs are”] golden brown, about 30 minutes.
As pasta cooks it will absorb the salt water and, in turn, be properly seasoned. A pinch or two of salt is not enough! Taste the water; it should remind you of a day at the beach. Cook the pasta until it’s al dente—tender but still quite a bit firm in the centre; it will finish cooking in the sauce. Drain it well, but don’t rinse, or you’ll drain away the surface starch that helps the sauce cling to it.
Try substituting the cheddar with other semisoft cheeses like Swiss, Jack or Emmenthal. Just about any minced fresh herb will add a wonderful aroma to the cheese sauce. I like dill, tarragon or thyme. For an extra special decadent version, stir in the meat from several cooked lobsters.
Sometimes what you don’t know can help you, especially when it comes to getting vegetables on the table. Kids will always eat pasta with tomato sauce but they won’t always eat their vegetables—so it can help to magically, mysteriously hide them in the sauce. This is the sort of sauce that you may end up making on a regular basis, so it’s worth investing in an immersion blender. It really speeds up the works.
I often braise chicken thighs for dinner; they have infinite varieties of preparation and go well with just about any side dish. They are flavour sponges too! In this version I pair the woodsy aroma of rosemary with the subtle flavour of vanilla. Try experimenting with other seasonings for different flavours.