Saturday, April 4, 2009

Macaroni and Cheese

What goes better with fried chicken than macaroni and cheese? I have made macaroni and cheese in the past but this Martha Stewart recipe blew the old recipes I had tried out of the water. The recipe is for baked macaroni and cheese, rather than a stovetop version, and calls for a real cheese sauce starting with a bechamel sauce rather than Velveeta. It may sound strange but the ingredient that made the biggest difference was the cubed white bread that is scattered on top of the cheesey pasta right before baking. The bread cubes form a delicious crust and lend some needed crunch to the final product. I recommend this technique over topping with normal breadcrumbs, which always seems to create a crust that is a little too dry and separate from the rest of the dish.

Making this recipe also caused a light bulb to go off in my head about bechamel sauce -- namely, that making a bechamel sauce takes patience. In the past, after a few minutes of stirring, I would get bothered by the lumps in the sauce cased by the butter/flour roux and fish out the lumps, which usually resulted in a sauce that was too thin and watery. This time, I let the sauce simmer for at least 10 minutes while constantly swirling with a whisk. The sauce thickened up beautifully with nary a lump in sight. The below recipe is slightly altered from the original.

Macaroni and Cheese


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
3 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 3/4 cups milk (I used 1% milk)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for water
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Gruyère or 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp grated Pecorino Romano cheese (I used Parmesan cheese)
1/2 pound elbow macaroni


1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the bread cubes in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cups Gruyère (or 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.

5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

6. Pour the mixture into a 8X8 casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cups cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Gruyère (or 2 Tbsp Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Makes 6 servings.

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