Macaroni & cheese is my ultimate comfort food and thanks to my Wisconsin-bred mother I learned from an early age how to make it from scratch. There was always a pie tin of mac & cheese in the freezer for emergencies and if there was a potluck at church or at the pool, she whipped up a double batch to take and there were never any leftovers! Like my mother, macaroni and cheese is my “go to” food when I need a dish for a potluck or for a friend in need. It’s always just as good bubbling hot out of the oven as it is when you sneak a forkful out of the fridge!
The next time you have to bring a dish to a potluck, try this simple recipe. But make a double batch so you have one to keep for yourself. You’ll be glad you did!
The ingredients are basic: elbow macaroni or any small pasta shape with nooks & crannies to hold the sauce. I used Marella Molloni pasta from Williams-Sonoma. It’s expensive, but I love the quality and the more sophisticated shape. I get 2.5 batches from one bag so I splurge occasionally. You’ll also need 10 – 12 ounces of cheese, butter, flour, salt, pepper, and milk.
Start by cooking your pasta according to the package directions. I omit the salt when cooking the pasta as the sauce is plenty salty. If you’re not ready to take that step, use half the salt called for on the package.
While your pasta is cooking cube your cheese. I recommend 8 to 10 ounces of sharp cheddar or a blend of your favorite cheeses. I used 9.5 ounces for this batch, about 7 ounces of sharp white cheddar and 2.5 ounces of gruyere. If your potluck will have kids you may want to stick with 8 ounces of a mild cheddar; it will be plenty cheesy. Don’t forget you’ll also need about 1 – 2 ounces to grate for the top!
Now for the sauce! First you must make the roux which is the base of any bechamel — or white sauce. A roux is very simple; it’s equal parts butter and flour. Melt the butter in a heavy sauce pan and add the flour, stirring constantly. I keep things simple, I use the same pan I just cooked the pasta in. As crazy as my schedule is no need to dirty a second pan! If you prefer, you can make your sauce while the pasta cooks and they’ll be done almost at the same time. Yes — it’s quick and easy and no, there’s absolutely no excuse to make macaroni and cheese from a box! Would you believe I didn’t have macaroni and cheese from a box until I was a junior in college?
Back to the roux! Cook the flour and butter, stirring constantly for 2 – 3 minutes making sure they’re well blended. Keep stirring! Once the roux is ready add the milk VERY slowly. I pour it in using a measuring cup in a slow, but steady stream. Stir constantly, making sure the milk is incorporated so you don’t get lumps! Once all the milk is incorporated, add the salt and pepper.
Once the sauce has thickened a bit you’re ready to add the cheese…
Carefully drop the cheese into the hot sauce. Stir constantly scrapping the bottoms and sides of the pan until all the cheese has melted, about 3 – 5 minutes.
The finished sauce will be think and creamy!
Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta. Stir gently using your spoon, ensuring the sauce is evenly distributed.
Sprinkle the top with grated cheese which will give the macaroni and cheese a nice brown top. Place it in an oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees.
Cook for 30 – 40 minutes or until bubbly and the top is browned. All that’s left is to find a fork and dig in!
8 ounces elbow macaroni or small pasta of choice, cooked al dente
2 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp pepper
2 cups milk
8 – 10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
1 – 2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1. Pre-heat oven to 350. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Place in a 1.5 quart, oven-proof dish.
2. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour. Cook over medium heat for 2 -3 minutes until the flour is well incorporated. Add the milk in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly. Add salt and pepper. Stir.
3. When sauce is hot and has thickened slightly, add cubed cheese. Stir constantly, scraping bottom and sides of pan as necessary. Once all the cheese has melted remove from the heat and pour sauce over the cooked pasta. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top.
4. Place casserole into pre-heated oven and cook for 30- 40 minutes until bubbly and browned on top. Remove. Serve.