18 April 2010

Best-Ever Mac and Cheese

So I grew up on a farm in Ohio.  Not exactly the Midwest, but close enough.  As a result, I believe in home cooking.  Generally, my food philosophy is that good food begins with good ingredients and not with a box.  I didn't always feel this way.  In undergrad, I found the ease and quick-preparation abilities of boxed foods to be a delight.  But I was young and I didn't know what I was doing (and not just in the kitchen), so please forgive me.  In the years hence, I have seen the err of my ways and have really grown into a much better cook.  Hooray!  Seriously, because I cannot believe that I missed out on making this awesome stuff for all these years.  I'd like to go back in time and slap myself in the face for ever making any mac and cheese from a box when I could have been making this.

This is the mac and cheese of your dreams.  The side dish of your holiday dinner fantasies.  The coup de grace of boxed mac and cheese mixes.  This made me feel like I was at home on the farm, at my grandmother's dining table.  I really can't say enough good things about this.  Make this.  Do it.

Martha Stewart’s Creamy Mac-and-Cheese
Adapted by Smitten Kitchen, and then by me from the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics

225g (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 inches of a French baguette, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces
1.3 litres (5 1/2 cups) whole milk
60g (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
500g (about 18 ounces or 4 1/2 cups) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
225g (about 8 ounces or 2 cups) grated Gruyère cheese
500g (1 pound) rotini pasta

1. Preheat oven to 190°C/375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. Melt 2 tablespoons of 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 6 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, and most of both cheeses (leave about 100g cheddar and 50g gruyère aside for later); 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 the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese, and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cover with foil if the top gets browned too soon. Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Serves 12

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