I have a husband who really, really loves macaroni and cheese. By his own admission, Clif could eat it once a week—twice, actually, if you consider leftovers, which we certainly do at the little house in the big woods. Over the years, I have developed a simple but tasty recipe that includes using a good tangy cheddar, a bit of nutmeg, and a fairly thin cheese sauce that will allow the macaroni to swell and still be saucy. Fresh bread crumbs for the top? But of course!
Because the macaroni and cheese is baked, I seldom make it during the summer. But summer is over, and as soon as fall came, Clif began hinting that he might like macaroni and cheese for supper. Soon, I promised, soon. Somehow, though, when fall came, I made other things for supper, and macaroni and cheese never made it on the menu. Until last night.
Every once in a while, procrastination is a good thing. A couple of weeks ago, from none other than Mario Batali, I picked up a good tip for making a white sauce, which always requires a fair amount of constant stirring. (When you have creaky knees, cutting down on stirring time is a good thing.) His suggestion was so simple that I wondered why in the world I hadn’t thought of it myself. That is, heat the milk so that it is hot before adding it to the flour and butter roux.
Last night, I fulfilled my promise to Clif and made macaroni and cheese for supper. I heated the milk, as Batali suggested, and it worked like a chahm, as we Mainers would say. The heated milk cut the stirring time in half, and my knees were grateful.
When it was done, I said to Clif, “Use some restraint. I want enough mac and cheese for two suppers.”
“Fat chance,” Clif promptly responded. “I have been macaroni-and-cheese deprived for too long.”
I couldn’t argue. After all, I hadn’t made macaroni and cheese since spring. Clif, however, did use some restraint, and we have enough left for our supper tonight.
And the next time I make a white sauce, you can bet I’ll use Mario Batali’s tip of heating the milk first.
Here is my recipe for macaroni and cheese. Although I have posted it a couple of times, I figured that for new readers it would be convenient to post it again.
Macaroni and Cheese
9 oz. of uncooked macaroni
2 1/2 cups of milk, heated
2 cups of grated cheddar
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
Butter a casserole dish. Cook the macaroni until firm in a big stock pot. Drain when done, and pour the macaroni into the casserole dish. In a big sauce pan, using medium heat, melt the butter, add the four, and whisk until bubbly. Whisk in the hot milk, the salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and then stir until thickened. The sauce is done when it leaves a line across the back of a wooden spoon. Add the cheese and stir until smooth.
Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni. This mixture will look very thin, almost like a soup, but I promise it will bake into a perfect mac and cheese. I always like to tear up a few pieces of bread into crumbs for the top. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly at the edges.