Monday, April 9, 2012

Mac and Cheese

This was the first recipe I posted when I launched the original Sweet & Simple website. It was just a few recipes then and no pictures whatsoever. Two years later, I still don’t know anyone who will turn down mac & cheese. This one is a little “fancy” because you make a white sauce, add grated cheese, combine everything together then bake it in the oven until golden brown and bubbling. And one my fav family dinners is this Mac and Cheese served with a roast chicken and a simply prepared vegetable or salad. Easy peasy dinner for 5 with plenty of leftovers!

A couple notes:
Nutmeg is optional because some people do find the taste overwhelming. I happen to love the sweet nutmeg combined with the sea salt and slightly nutty taste of the Jarlsberg.
Traditionally, a white sauce is “white” and you would not use freshly ground black pepper. But it’s your mac & cheese, so you get to choose!
I used to to think a white sauce took much longer and then realized I was including the resting time between the sauce being finished and the combining of the ingredients before the casseroles go in the oven. This sauce should easily pull together in 10-20 minutes max.

Mac and Cheese

Makes two 8” round casseroles
Each casserole serves 6-8 as a side dish.
Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly butter two 8” round casseroles and set aside.

Cheese Sauce
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup unbleached, all purpose flour
4 cups 2% milk
2 1/2 cups Jarslberg cheese (grated)
Sea salt & freshly ground white and/or black pepper
Nutmeg (optional)

2 lbs mini rigatoni/mini penne (or whatever shape you like best) cooked al dente

In a large saucepan, gently melt the butter (do not brown it). When the butter has melted, sprinkle the flour over the top and stir with a heatproof spatula or wooden spoon until well blended and starting to color (do not brown it). Season lightly with sea salt and pepper and nutmeg, if desired.

Switch to a whisk and add the milk slowly in a stream, whisking constantly. Continue whisking until the mixture boils, then reduce the heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken, about 10-20 minutes. Check seasonings and adjust if necessary. Add cheese all at once, gently stirring the mixture to melt the cheese.

Cook the pasta al dente according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Drain but do not rinse the pasta then gently combine it with the cheese sauce, reserving 2 cups of the sauce. Dividing the mixture evenly between the two casseroles. Pour one cup of sauce over the top of each casserole and use a small offset or other spatula to spread it around evenly.

Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.