Fast, Fun Mac & Cheese

Everybody loves Mac & Cheese. There are as many M&C recipes and variations as there are people who make it so well that they end up being asked to make it often. And it’s easy enough to make that you can add it to your suppertime menu on the spur of the moment!

As my cousin, Keith, likes to say, “It ain’t brain science or rocket surgery!”

Classic Mac & Cheese

Classic Mac & Cheese. My version from supper tonight! With cubes of
Smoked Ham, Penne Regate Pasta, Medium Ontario Cheddar Cheese,
minced Onion and two teaspoons of dry Ground Mustard Seed.

If you have 500 g of coloured Cheddar Cheese, a half cup of Flour, a half cup of Butter, 2 cups of dry Pasta, 4 cups of milk and a good pinch each of Salt and Pepper, you can put together a gorgeous, rich, classic Mac & Cheese in under half an hour. It’ll take an hour to bake in the oven. But the wait will definitely be worth it!

The Classic M&C method

My no-fail recipe starts with making 2 cups of White Sauce (classic Béchamel), converted into a Cheddar Cheese Sauce by adding 2 cups of grated Cheese, a teaspoon of Dry Mustard, a couple of good pinches of Salt and White Pepper (to taste) and, maybe, a little Heavy Cream to adjust the consistency, if desired. Although… You’ll want the Sauce mixture to be quite stiff, for the M&C to come out firm but gooey at serving time!

Par-cook 2 cups (dry measure) of pasta (Elbow Macaroni, Penne Regate, Fusilli, or any other short pasta you like) until it is just on the verge of al dente. It will cook the rest of the way in the M&C casserole. Drain well, but DO NOT RINSE! The surface starch will help bind the M&C together.

Combine the warm Sauce and warm Pasta thoroughly, ensuring that there is not too much Sauce, but enough to fill all the spaces between the pieces of Pasta. An excess of Sauce will result in soupy M&C.

Place the Pasta and Sauce mixture into a suitable well-greased casserole dish, in an even 2 in. layer. Top with another cup of grated Cheese – mixed, if you like, with some seasoned, Herbed Bread Crumbs.

Bake in a 350 F oven for an hour, until the sauce tightens up and the topping is golden brown.

Remove the casserole from the oven and allow it to rest for up to half an hour, to give the M&C a chance to set before cutting individual servings. It’ll be way too hot to eat, anyway, when it first emerges from the oven!

A double recipe, in a standard 10 in. x 13 in. Lasagna dish. This baby
will yield at least 12 good portions. You can store the leftovers in the
fridge for at least a week. Freeze tightly wrapped in one large block
or in individual portions for up to 3 months.

Variations are legion…

I like to add small cubes of fully cooked Ham, crumbled Bacon, or pieces of browned, crumbled Sausage Meat. There’s one school of thought that calls for adding small, par-cooked florets of Broccoli. Others swear by diced fresh Tomatoes or Sun-dried Tomatoes.

Still others insist that Grandma always added blanched Green Beans, cut into 1 in. pieces, on the bias. (“On the bias” was apparently a really big thing with a lot of Grandmas, back then…)

Then, there’s the mushroom lobby, and the fringe artists who say, “Give Cheeses other than Cheddar a chance!”

Try stirring theme-oriented herbs and spices into your Sauce mixture to complement your featured entrée…

Your M&C can be whatever you want it to be!

Explore! Enjoy!

~ Maggie J.