Archive for the ‘Pasta’ Category

Macaroni and Cheese

Some time ago, my sister Ashley indicated that she’d like it if I’d make her a cookbook of my favorite recipes.  My initial intention was to do just that–gather, print out and put together a physical book and send it to her.  And then I thought—how old fashioned.  It would be far more fun to have an ongoing project together.

So here’s the plan–which I haven’t mentioned to Ashley yet.  Surprise, kiddo!  Instead of gathering and printing and putting together a binder of recipes, I’ll gather and post recipes here. Ash is a new cook (and newly married with a baby on the way, to boot!), so I’ll include various maybe useful tips with the recipes.   I pledge at least 2 new posts a week for a year.  Ash will have the ability to post too, so she can share with me as well if she feels like it.  The only criteria for the recipes will be that they are tried and true and damn good.

So here we go…

I’m going to start off with the best world’s best Macaroni and Cheese.  This recipe was given to me by the best cook I know and it puts all other Mac and Cheese to shame.

Good to know:

1) You MUST use the panko for the topping.  Don’t think you can cheat and just use normal bread crumbs for the topping.  Trust me–the wow factor of this dish will just disappear.  Panko isn’t hard to find these days in normal supermarkets.  They usually have it in the Asian food aisle.

2) As far as the cheese goes, while I’ve used all sorts of combinations of leftover cheese with really good results, the easiest thing to do is just grab two 10 oz blocks of Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp–also conveniently in the dairy case of most normal supermarkets.  It’s exactly the right amount.  Grate it up with a box grater if you don’t happen to have a food processor with a grater disk.

3) You have to put in the mustard.  Even if you don’t like mustard, put it in.  I promise your sauce won’t taste like mustard.

4) The pasta cooking water is going to make your cheese sauce really watery.  You’ll think when you put it in, “Oh my god, what have I done?!”  But, since you’ve purposely cooked your pasta just to the al dente stage, all that extra water gets absorbed back into your pasta and the consistency of both your pasta and sauce will be perfect when you take it out of the oven.  This pasta water is the trick that elevates this recipe.

5) I bake mine in a 9×13 inch pan.  If you use a big enough pan to make your cheese sauce in, you can skip making another bowl dirty to combine the sauce, pasta water and macaroni–just do it in the cheese sauce pan.  Also, the part where it says to put wax paper over your sauce–I admit I’ve never once done this.  I just give it a stir every couple minutes and it’s always been perfectly skinless.

6) Don’t make this once a week like you’ll want to.  Your ass and your arteries won’t appreciate it.

Here’s a printable version of the recipe: Print Recipe

Macaroni and Cheese from Gourmet Cookbook, Ruth Reichl


  • ¼ stick (two tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1 cup coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (about 4 ounces)


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 ¾ cups whole milk
  • ¾ cups heavy cream
  • 4 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (about 1 pound)
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ pound elbow macaroni

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish.

MAKE THE TOPPING: Stir together butter, panko, and cheese in a bowl until well combined.

MAKE THE SAUCE: Melt butter in a 5-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat. Whisk in flour and red pepper flakes and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes to make a roux. Whisk in milk in a slow stream, then bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly. Simmer, whisking occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in cream, Cheddar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Remove pot from heat and cover surface of sauce with wax paper to prevent a skin from forming.

COOK THE MACARONI AND ASSEMBLE THE DISH: Cook macaroni in a 6-quart pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt per every 4 quarts of water) until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water and drain macaroni.

Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water, and sauce in a large bowl, the transfer to baking dish (mixture will be loose).

Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni. Bake until top is golden and bubbling, 25 to 35 minutes.

COOK’S NOTE: The topping can be made up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated, covered.


Read Full Post »