Monday, January 20, 2014

Classic Mac & Cheese

This is more than comfort food - it's nap food.  It is indeed, as its nickname implies, so rich and filling that more often than not it puts me and my husband into a food coma after we lick the last bits of delicious velvety cheese sauce from our forks.

Since it's a very basic recipe, its success depends on the quality of ingredients you choose to use. I make this when I have knobs of pretty great cheeses hanging around in the fridge that need a nice vehicle to take them out entirely... a good slab of intense Quebec cheddar, a piece of sharp Gruyere, a salty wedge of Parm, some creamy Fontina, say. Just try to not make it with pre-shredded, bagged stuff. And don't make plans the night you eat it, just in case you happen to fall into unintended slumber.

Classic Mac & Cheese
Makes 5-7 servings

*1/2 lb shells
*3 tablespoons butter
*3 tablespoons flour
*2 cups milk, warmed
*About 3 cups grated cheeses + 1/4 cup grated Parm-Reg
*Couple generous dashes of Tabasco
*1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
*1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375. Butter a baking dish, or as I did for this recipe, two small cast iron pans. Boil the pasta no further than al dente and drain. Meanwhile, in another pot, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted and foamed, gradually add in the flour, whisking all the while. Cook the roux for a few minutes, and then gradually pour in the milk, whisking to stamp out all the lumps. Cook the sauce until it comes to a low boil, then cook a few minutes more, stirring all the while. Remove the pot from heat and toss in the cheeses, Tabasco, and pinches of S&P. Once the cheese has melted, add the pasta and stir to combine well. Pour the pasta in an even layer in your baking vessel, then combine the thyme and bread crumbs with some S&P and extra grated Parm-Reg and sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly on top. Bake for 15-17 minutes, flicking on the broiler for the last 2 if you like a nicely crisped top.

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