The ultimate comfort food

January 16, 2008

Moms have been pleasing their families by making scratch mac and cheese for decades. And since the late 1930s when Kraft first started making packaged macaroni and cheese, many moms have served make-do versions on busy nights when they lacked the necessary time to make the real thing. With generations of us having grown up eating these cheesy pots of noodles, macaroni and cheese has become if not the singular dish that epitomizes comfort food, one of the top 10.

I think my version is one of the best — B is your mystery letter for today. Not only is it supremely cheesy and smooth, but this mac and cheese can be customized to suit your own definition of macaroni and cheese. For those who grew up on the packaged stuff, it can be served creamy and slightly fluid from the cooking pot. And, for those who crave the old school, Mom’s kitchen variety, this version can be topped with buttery crumbs and baked until the sauce penetrates the noodles and a golden crust forms. Either way, this mac and cheese is sublimely delicious and iconically orange!

For more classic and inspiring pasta recipes, check out Ruth Daniel’s Presto Pasta Night, a Friday feature in her Once Upon a Feast Blog.

Double Cheddar Mac and Cheese
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

3 cups (750 mL) dry macaroni noodles
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
1/4 cup (50 mL) very finely chopped or coarsely grated onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp (2 m L) pepper
1/2 tsp (1 mL) nutmeg
1 tbsp (15 mL) all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) milk
1 pkg (250 g) cold pack Cheddar cheese
1 cup (250 mL) shredded aged Cheddar cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil Add the macaroni and cook according to package directions. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a deep skillet set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, pepper and nutmeg. Sprinkle the flour evenly over the onion mixture and blend well. Add a splash of the milk and blend until smooth.

Gradually add remaining milk, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Break up the cold pack cheese and add it a little at a time to the milk mixture until completely incorporated. Gradually add the grated cheese, stirring well between additions. When all the cheese is incorporated into the sauce, remove pan from heat.

Blend the macaroni into the sauce mixture, stirring until evenly coated. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Variation: For baked Mac and Cheese, transfer the macaroni mixture to to a buttered 8-cup (2L) casserole dish. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Toss 1 cup (250 mL) fresh bread crumbs with 2 tbsp (30 mL) each melted butter and chopped fresh parsley. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the casserole. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until bubbly and browned.

Cook once, eat twice: Double this recipe and freeze one half as a casserole for another time. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking, covered in foil, for about 40 minutes or until heated through. Broil until browned on top.

Text and recipe excerpted from Dana’s Top Ten Table: 200 Fresh Takes on Family-Favorite Meals. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright (c) 2007 by Dana McCauley. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

See me preparing this dish on Daytime Toronto: