As with many things in life, I’m incredibly fickle about my mac and cheese, but it’s only because I care. Mac is one of my favorite foods, and I want it to live up to its potential. Besides, if I’m going to eat something that decadent it had better be delicious.
I detest all forms of boxed and pre-prepared mac and cheese (except Trader Joe’s, which has saved my life on more than one occasion), and the recipes I test never turn out perfect. They’re always either too oily, or too cheesy, or too mushy, or you know. Just plain wrong.
I decided to play around on the stove tonight to see if I could invent a creamy, cheesy sauce that’s rich without being over the top. I got really close with this baked mac.
A couple notes: I used whole-wheat noodles because they hold up better in the oven. Any kind of milk will work for this sauce (I used 1 percent), but I imagine that the higher the fat content, the quicker the sauce thickens. I used a combination of shredded Mexican blend cheese and shredded gouda, but any kind of cheese will do; I could see a combination of Swiss and cheddar being really tasty.
Just don’t use Velveeta. I like it just as much as the next red-blooded American (*cough, cough*), but seeing as how it isn’t actually cheese, it probably doesn’t belong in this recipe. It isn’t macaroni and “processed cheese product,” after all.
1/2 pound of macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
3 cups cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
Salt and pepper
Cook the pasta to just slightly chewier than al dente and drain. Put the noodles in a mixing bowl and set aside.
Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the flour a tablespoonful at a time, forming a paste. Add about 1/4 cup of milk, whisking to combine it with the flour and butter. Add the rest of the milk slowly, whisking the entire time. Turn up the heat to medium and cook the sauce, whisking constantly, until it thickens. Do not stop stirring and do not let the milk boil. If that happens, the sauce is toast. It’ll probably still taste OK, but will get grainy and weird. The sauce needs to be thick enough to stick to the sides of the pot; this could take 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the milk’s fat content.
Drop the heat down to low. Add two cups of cheese to the thickened sauce, whisking constantly. Add the ground mustard, then salt and pepper to taste. Stir it all together, then taste the sauce. If it’s not cheesy enough, add more cheese about 1/4 cup at a time until it tastes just right. I ended up using a total of about 2 1/2 cups of cheese in the sauce.
Pour the sauce over the cooked noodles and mix. Spray a metal or glass baking dish with cooking spray and pour the mac into the pan. Sprinkle the top with a bit more cheese and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, or until brown and slightly crusty on top.
Eat. Enjoy. Marvel at your genius.