We love comfort food. What is better than coming home after a long stressful day to a warm bowl of delicious and bubbling Mac and Cheese?
You are right. Nothing. Nothing at all. Except maybe coming home to a foot masseuse.
Let’s talk about a menu item that children universally love: Mac and Cheese.
Do you agree?
I remember a not-so-delicious Mac and Cheese that my cousin, Laura and I were forced to eat at a family Christmas party. It was around 1974. Since we were under 4′ tall we were not allowed space at the dinner table. Instead, our aunt dressed-up her linoleum kitchen floor with a plastic Christmassy “tablecloth.” We ate that glop only because, until we did- no presents.
It was gross. And it was grossly unfair.
And now you have an idea why I stress that “The table matters.” The actual table and the idea of the table.
Guess what? Mac and Cheese doesn’t have to resemble the color of the neon bike shorts I wore in the 80s to be appealing. And it certainly does not have to come in a box with ingredients that I have to sound out slowly like tri-poly-phos-phate. Google that.
I dare you to try to find this color in nature.
It takes relatively little time to whip up a pan in your kitchen and doctor it up with some added ingredients if you want to be adventuresome. Or a rock star, of course.
And don’t forget, we grown-ups love this comfort food, too. I especially like to add some lobster meat and sautéed mushrooms and substitute the Monterey Jack cheese with Gruyere.
You can divide the recipe into more than one pan and freeze the remaining for another night.
Mary’s Mac and Cheese:
What you need:
1 pound cavatelli (or macaroni if you prefer)
1 quart warm (but not boiling) milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 Cups of grated cheddar cheese
2 Cups of Monterey Jack cheese
1 teaspoon of nutmeg (fresh if you have it)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
What you do:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of water with 1 tablespoon of salt to the boil
Add the pasta to the water and cook according to the directions on the package (about 6 to 8 minutes.) Be sure that the pasta is tender- not al dente
Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it is hot but not boiling,
In another small saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons of butter on medium heat.
Add the flour to the butter and cook over low heat for 2 minutes constantly stirring with a wire whisk or a fork. If the flour starts to clump remove the pan from the heat for a few moments and continue to stir
Add the hot milk to the butter and flour mixture and continue to cook for about 2 minutes stirring constantly. It will thicken up.
Remove the pan from the heat and add the Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese, 1 tablespoon of salt, pepper, nutmeg, and dry mustard.
Then, add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter, and then add it to the panko bread crumbs into the pan and mix well.
Sprinkle the bread crumbs on the top.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling
Put under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the bread crumbs.
To shake it up a bit toss one or more of these ingredients into the mixture
- ground beef
- shredded chicken
- bacon crumbles
- peas, corn or carrots
- sautéed mushrooms
- lobster meat
(Be sure to cook all of the above before you add them to the pasta mixture)
Serve with a side salad or a cup of homemade tomato soup
Delicious job, Mom!
And that’s the dish.
Because the table matters.