Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fancy-Pants Macaroni & Cheese

I've always loved macaroni and cheese, the homemade-from-scratch kind, not the kind from the box. Sure, boxed M&C is edible, but I think in a way the homemade kind is just as easy, it tastes better, AND you know exactly what went into it instead of having to worry about all those preservatives.

My good friend Nash gave me Martha Stewart's M&C recipe, and what you find below is pretty close to it. But good ol' Martha uses sharp white cheddar cheese, which I don't like very much, and anyway, I couldn't find it in our little ol' Kroger. And Martha likes to feed a huge crowd, so I halved the recipe.

Another difference in my M&C is the topping: buttered Japanese bread crumbs give it the perfect crunch on top to contrast with the creamy, soft comfort-foodiness of the casserole.

2 1/4 cups milk
1 stick butter, divided in half
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for macaroni water
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 (12 ounce) package elbow macaroni
1 - 1 1/2 cups Japanese bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a 1 1/2-2 quart casserole dish and set aside.
3. Warm the milk in the microwave for 60-90 seconds.
4. Melt 1/2 stick butter in a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat.
5. When the butter starts to bubble, whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly about 1 minute.
6. While whisking, slowly pour in the warmed milk a little at a time to keep the mixture smooth.
7. Whisk constantly for about 8-12 minutes, until bubbling and thick.
Remove the pan from heat.
8. Stir in salt, nutmeg, pepper, paprika, and cheeses until melted and well combined.
9. Cover a large pot of salted water and bring to a boil.Cook macaroni for ONLY 3 minutes: the goal is for the outside of the pasta to be cooked and the inside underdone - cooking will continue in the oven in casserole form.
10. Drain and rinse the macaroni with cool water, drain well, and stir noodles into the cheese sauce.
11. Pour into the greased casserole dish.
12. Melt the other 1/2 stick butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl.
13. Add Japanese breadcrumbs to melted butter, stirring until well combined.
14. Top the casserole with the breadcrumb mixture and cook in oven until brown, about 30 minutes.
OK, so maybe this isn't JUST as easy as out-of-a-box macaroni, but I think it tastes a helluva lot better. Also, you could use any kind of mainstream cheese with the basic cheddar consistency, as long as it's about 2 1/2 - 3 cups total.
Photo courtesy of Wegman's.



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