My mother recently saved me a “New York Times” article about macaroni and cheese. I was a bit skeptical about the writer’s claim that, in her search for the perfect mac & cheese recipe she had been baffled by references to white sauce (what food writer never heard of white sauce?!) and I was incensed to read that many writers of recipes believed that macaroni and cheese made with a cheese-enriched white sauce was disgusting, and that “good” macaroni was made by layering pieces of cheese in a dish with pasta, and baking it.
Some of the “Times’” recipes, in a truly appalling twist, call for the inclusion of minced onions, which have NO place in macaroni and cheese. I have only a few orthodoxies in my life, which include no jewelry on men and no facial glitter during daylight hours, but I would have to add to my list the pristine, un-spiced, un-onioned purity of macaroni and cheese. The anti-white sauce camp apparently recognizes that their barbaric layering method leaves nothing more than a dish full of oily, stringy cheese that slips off of the noodles, so they resort to the heavy use of Processed Cheese Food because it melts smoothly and doesn’t separate like, well, actual cheese.
Since you have probably been dying to know, here is my recipe for macaroni and cheese. It originally hails from the back of the Mueller’s shell box, although I “invented” the crumb topping.
Mueller’s Box Mac and Cheese My Way
- 1.16 oz box pasta (I like shells, radiatore, penne, or rigatoni; you need something with holes to hold the sauce)
- 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 2 1/2 cups milk (I use skim, because its what’s in the house; if I’m making this for company or to take to someone I use 2%)
- 2 cups cheese (although I always double it)
- Parmesan Cheese, shredded or grated
- Italian bread crumbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375. Grease a 9×13 pan or a 2 quart casserole dish, either works fine. Boil water for pasta, and cook following label directions. I usually wait until the water boils and then make the cheese sauce while the pasta cooks).
In a large saucepan, melt butter or margarine. Whisk in flour, mustard, salt and pepper. Over medium heat, whisk in milk gradually, and stir constantly until thickened. If you aren’t sure if its thickened yet; its not. Be patient.
When milk mixture is thickened, remove from heat and stir in cheese until completely melted. Pour drained pasta into baking dish, add cheese sauce, and mix gently. Smooth top with the back of a spoon or a spatula, then sprinkle on a thin layer of Parmesan followed by a thin layer of bread crumbs. Bake for 25 minutes.
This macaroni and cheese comes out thick, cheesy and delicious with a crispy crust that is fought over in both my family of origin and my current family. The next time I make it, I’ll take a picture and add it to this post. The dish is very hearty, and needs nothing more than a salad or a cooked green vegetable to complete the meal. Leftovers are divine, although we rarely see any; this macaroni and cheese is so valuable a commodity in my family that when leftovers exist they are sometimes delivered to other family members at their local households like Tupperware full of frankincense and myrrh. Its that good.
As for other macaroni and cheese, it is simply wrong. There is real gold, and there is that Black Hills stuff they sell on the Home Shopping Network; macaroni made any other way is inauthentic. I have no problem with a change of cheese, and in fact I have experimented widely with the flavors of Swiss, Manchego (delicious but incredibly expensive), Gouda and Emmentaler, all pretty successfully. I have also used 2% cheese, which is okay. I don’t object to changes in the crumb topping, or even to its omission, although I can’t imagine doing such a thing intentionally. As for the stuff in the blue box, I’ll admit that I sometimes eat it with the kids, and I like it. It is, however, in a category completely separate from actual macaroni made with actual cheese.
Am I a macaroni extremist? Perhaps. I can only say that I know I am right about jewelry on men, and glitter in daylight, and I’m guessing I’m probably right about the macaroni, too.