I love cheese. All the kinds. Yesterday I went to the grocery store to stock up on essentials. Once all my items were all out on the checkout conveyor, I thought, wow that is a lot of cheese I am buying. I wonder if the checkout person noticed? Did she think, wow this lady sure does like cheese? Well I do. And what better way to use it than macaroni and cheese.
In 2003-2004 when I really started to find my joy in cooking during my college/graduate school days, my mom bought me a cookbook "Cooking for Comfort" with a giant delicious looking mac n cheese on the cover. The author is NY Times columnist and author Marian Burros, and it was published in 2003. The introduction alludes to a post-9/11 food scene in NYC of a return to comfort food. This recipe hits the spot. Probably not a typical southern style mac n cheese but it has turned into my favorite recipe for it. I've tried several recipes, some just stove top only, and others like this one that bake in the oven. All have been good, but I keep coming back to this one. I hope you enjoy it too!
Total Time: 1 hr (includes 30 minutes baking in the oven)
Serves: 6 as a side dish
1/2 large Vidalia onion, diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (I use 1 or 2%)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard (creamy not grainy)
12 oz extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated, with 2 tbsp reserved for the topping
Pinch of salt and pepper
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 tsp hot sauce
8 ounces of your favorite pasta.
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano, or other similar Italian hard cheese)
- Preheat oven to 400-F. Place rack on the bottom third of the oven.
- In a large stock pot, bring water to boil for the pasta. Once it comes to a boil, add 2 tbsp of salt to the water and add the pasta, cook per pasta directions. Drain. Do not rinse the pasta.
- While waiting for the pasta water to boil and pasta to cook, make the sauce. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add in the onion and cook the onion over low heat for 5-7 minutes until the onion is translucent. Do not brown.
- Stir in the flour.
- Remove from the heat, and whisk in the milk until blended. Return to the heat, medium, and cook, stirring constantly (gently) until the mixture begins to thicken. For me, that usually take 5-7 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, add in the Dijon mustard, pinch of salt and pepper, nutmeg, hot sauce. Stir until blended.
- Add in the cooked pasta and 10 oz of the shredded cheddar. Stir until blended.
- Spoon the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish. Top with the remaining 2 tbsp of cheddar cheese and all of the Parmesan cheese.
- Transfer the dish to the oven, and cook for about 30 minutes or until it's bubbling and browning around the edges.
Steps/Tips and Tricks
Chop the onion into a small dice. Don't want to end up chomping down on a large onion chunk later on! The original recipe called for about 1 cup, for me this is 1/2 of a sweet Vidalia onion. I'll save the rest for something else later.
Remember to start your pasta water to boil about the same time you start the onion/cheese mixture. For me it all got finished and ready to combine about the same time this way.
Don't cook the onions on too high a heat, you aren't looking to brown/crisp them, just gently cook and soften them. For me I kept the heat on medium for 5-7 minutes.
A word about spices. Whenever you can grate a thing yourself, it will be fresher. Already ground nutmeg is also fine, but if it's really old, probably time to get new fresh nutmeg. I have a small Microplane grater that is perfect for grating whole nutmeg. Whole nutmeg lasts for years in the pantry. I just grate the nutmeg right over the pan, eyeballing the amount.
I like to be nice and organized, getting out all the ingredients while something else is happening, like the onion softening and waiting for pasta water to boil. So that is what I did.
Onions are ready!
After adding in the flour to the onion, I stir it just for 30 seconds over the heat to get some extra toasted flavor on the flour.
Turn off the heat to add in your milk so the milk doesn't scald. Then turn it back on to medium, and get ready to stir stir stir for 5-7 minutes. No need to stir vigorously, just keep it moving so the milk doesn't burn.
Don't forget to check your pasta water. It should be boiling by now. Add in the salt to the pasta water to help flavor the pasta, and then add in your pasta. I use Banza chickpea pasta. It is diabetic friendly and really can tell no difference in traditional semolina flour pasta.
Once the milk mixture starts to thicken, add in the seasonings. Don't wait until it's actually thick. You will know when it STARTS to thicken because as you stir you will see the consistency change some. It will be slightly more viscous. Then it is time to remove from the heat.
Once you've blended in the seasoning and mustard, add in the cheese and pasta. Mix thoroughly.
I've mentioned before on the blog a few times how much better cheese is when you grate/shred it yourself vs buying pre-shredded. Yes I do buy pre-shredded sometimes for convenience, but I look for the kinds without added chemicals that prevent the cheese from caking and clumping. Not only are those not good for you, but they prevent a good melt on the cheese ie the sauce will not be as smooth. I go into more detail and have some great tips on easy shredding yourself with a food processor on my post about Zucchini Bread
(no there is no cheese in the zucchini bread, but I shred the zucchini in my food processor, and then got off on a tangent about shredding cheese, scroll until you see the pics of the food processor...).
Now it's time to dump it all in your baking dish. This is a good time to get a helper who can scrape out all the good bits of cheese sauce while you hold the pan over the baking dish.
Time to bake! Remember to put your oven racks near the bottom so the top doesn't get too brown too quickly.
Wait 30 mins.....then enjoy! This travels well, I made this for a family gathering. Covered with aluminum foil right out of the oven, put in my travel tote for such size dishes, and off we went!
Listen to the sizzle:
Hope you enjoy!
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