Macaroni and cheese

2-1/2 ounces elbow macaroni or small shells

1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 quarts water

1-1/2 teaspoons butter

1-1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon dried mustard

3 ounces (6 tablespoons) whole milk

1/2 ounce cream cheese

3 ounces aged cheddar cheese, shredded (look for one aged 18 months or more; I like Grafton 2-year-old cheddar)

1 ounce Monterey jack cheese, shredded

Optional topping

2 teaspoons butter

1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

1-2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano or similar cheese

Optional add-ins (choose one or two)

1 – 2 tablespoons chopped roasted red pepper

2 – 4 tablespoons diced ham

1/4 cup cooked diced broccoli

Macaroni and cheese (Janet’s)

While I love the flavor of aged cheddar cheese, it doesn’t melt very well, which is why I add the Monterey jack and the cream cheese, which also keeps the sauce from separating. If you use a regular sharp or medium sharp cheddar, I recommend skipping the jack cheese and using four ounces of cheddar. This makes a very generous entree for one, or a moderate dinner serving with leftovers with lunch. It can also make a generous side dish for two. It’s easy to double, which will give you enough for 4 to 6 people, depending on what else is served.

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a medium pot. Add the macaroni and cook according to package directions. (If you like it firm, remove it just before it’s completely done because it will continue to cook a bit more in the sauce.) When done, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and mustard and stir to combine. Cook for a few minutes until the mixture turns beige. It should be thick but fairly smooth. Add half the milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Add the rest of the milk and whisk again. Let the sauce cook for a minute to thicken up.

Turn the heat to low. Add the cream cheese and stir just until melted. Add the remaining cheese in several stages and stir until each addition is melted. Taste, and add salt if necessary. Remove the sauce from the heat.

Stir the drained pasta into the sauce. If you’re going to add any of the optional ingredients, now’s the time.

At this point, you’ve got “stovetop” macaroni and cheese; it’s ready to eat.

If you like your macaroni and cheese baked with a crisp top, pour the mixture into a small lightly buttered gratin or casserole dish (I use a shallow oval dish that’s about 8″ x 5″) and preheat the oven to 375°F.

For the topping, melt the butter in a small pan or in a bowl in the microwave. Add the panko and stir to coat. Let cool slightly and add the cheese. Stir to combine and sprinkle over the macaroni mixture. (Depending on the size of your baking dish, you may not need it all.) Bake the pasta for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and the topping is golden brown and crisp.

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