I think one weakness of mine is my mom’s baked macaroni and cheese…all gooey with a crispy breadcrumb topping, sprinkled with some paprkia. Yum. When I was a kid, however, I didn’t give it enough respect because I liked that florescent orange stuff from a box (Sorry, Mom). It took a few years for me to appreciate my mom’s version, and well, nothing comes close to it. The version of my own below is a pretty good substitute because she and my dad live a few hours away in another state and they’re not here right now. I think the next time I go home I will request that she make macaroni and cheese. See, mom? It’s a win-win. We get to see each other AND enjoy a nice dinner!
- 1 lb. of gemeli or small shells (or, macaroni/small-sized pasta), cooked
- 2 C. cheddar cheese, shredded (I used low-fat white Cheddar and NY State Sharp Cheddar)
- 1/2 C. grated pecorino-romano
- 1 3/4 C. milk at room temperature (not cold)
- 1/4 C. half and half
- 5 TB unsalted butter
- 5 TB flour
- 1-2 tsp ground mustard
- 1-2 tsp smoked paprika (or, hot if you like)
- dash of onion powder (or, garlic if you prefer it)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 – 1/2 C Panko bread crumbs for topping, toasted
Coat a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Cook your pasta, drain, put in a large bowl and set aside.
Make the roux: In a medium-sized saucepan over low to medium heat, melt the butter, then add the (carefully measured) flour. Whisk this until it’s smooth and there are no lumps of flour.
Make the cheese sauce: Slowly add the milk to the roux, whisking all the while. (You don’t want cold-from the fridge milk because I think it’s too much of a shock for the roux.) Continue to whisk for a couple minutes or, until the mixture starts to get thicker. (Don’t let it go until it gets to a paste consistency!). Add the cheeses and keep whisking until the cheese is melted and you have a nice and creamy sauce. Add the spices and mix well. UPDATE 2.16.16: I realized that sautéing the breadcrumbs in a few tablespoons of butter first and then sprinkling them on top of the pasta and cheese worked out better (that way the mac and cheese isn’t in the oven too long and won’t dry out b/c you’re waiting for the crumbs to brown on top.
Pour cheese sauce over cooked pasta and stir until the pasta is thoroughly coated. Put pasta in the baking dish and sprinkle the breadcrumbs and a little bit extra grated pecorino Romano cheese. Bake, uncovered at 400 degrees until it’s bubbly and crispy–about 15-20 minutes. Now you have dinner for the week, or, you can invite a few friends over for dinner. Enjoy!
Mmmm, fresh from the oven. Dinner’s on!
Some other variations: I think this would be really good with some dried jalapenos added to the cheese sauce, or, add some crushed red pepper for a kick. If you wanted to be more healthy, you could probably add some steamed broccoli florets or some steamed kale or spinach.