Mac and Cheese
Believe me, when there are impatient and hungry children to feed, I reach right for the blue box in the pantry. It’s easy, and I certainly never get any complaints. But every once in a while, I crave Mac and Cheese and, frankly, the boxed stuff simply won’t do.
What I want is the real Mac and Cheese – the kind that takes center stage at the dinner table and throws all dietary caution to the wind. The kind that’s enveloped in a rich, creamy sauce made from Gruyere and Cheddar cheese and topped with crispy, buttery bread crumbs. The kind that warms you up on a chilly fall night…that’s the kind of home-cooked, wrap itself around you Mac and Cheese I’m talking about.
And no one does it like Ina Garten. This recipe is modestly adapted from her Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook. I’ve omitted her sliced tomatoes (elegant as they are, my kids would have no part of them) and cut her recipe in half. The quantity is perfect for my family – two big eaters and two little ones – but if you have older children or a bigger family, you can easily double the recipe.
Serves 3-4 as a main course, and 6 as a side
½ pound macaroni, cavatappi or penne (8 ounces)
2 ½ cups milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
¼ cup all-purpose flour
6 ounces Gruyere, grated (about 2 cups)
4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 cup)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ cup fresh white bread crumbs (2-3 slices, crusts removed and torn into ¼” pieces)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Drizzle a bit of oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, or just slightly underdone. Rinse with cold water and drain well.
3. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat, but don’t boil it. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a medium (2-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a few minutes more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, ½ tablespoon kosher salt, pepper (¼ tsp), and nutmeg (¼ tsp). Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into a 2-quart baking dish.
4. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, combine with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle evenly over pasta and cheese sauce. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on the top.
*To reheat leftovers, cover with aluminum foil and warm in a 300 degree oven. Do not microwave.
*Note that this recipe calls for kosher salt. If you have to substitute regular salt, use less.