Because some things never go out of style:
Macaroni and cheese is one of those classic American dishes. During a recent trip to the United States we had international friends who made a point of trying this all-American dish. However, they came back disappointed and not understanding what all of the fuss is about. This is just proof that not all macaroni and cheese recipes are created equal. And as any self-respecting foodie will tell you, cheese should never come in a dehydrated form. That means those boxes of macaroni and cheese with their bright orange powdery “cheese” are a non-starter for true macaroni and cheese connoisseurs. Besides, when the dish is so simple to make from scratch, why should you rely on those pre-made kits anyway?
Macaroni and cheese is family favorite at our house and I regularly cook but big batches of it. I will make a big pan of it and we’ll eat it for dinner one night then enjoy it as leftovers throughout the week. I’ve even taken to putting the macaroni in individual sized crocks and serving it at formal dinner parties to provide our guests with a little taste of America.
In addition to being easy to make, the recipe is quite flexible. This recipe calls for cheddar, Swiss and Gorgonzola cheeses but you can easily substitute whichever cheeses you like or have available. This is especially convenient here in Albania where our cheese selection although limited yet growing, is never reliable. A cheese might be available in the supermarket one week then disappear off of the shelves for months at a time. Be flexible and experiment since you never know what new flavor combination you will discover and love! I also like to bake my macaroni and cheese. Panko bread crumbs and a bit of butter make for a crunchy topping but you can also use fresh bread crumbs or even crackers.
BAKED MACARONI AND CHEESE
1 pound uncooked small pasta of your choice (I like to use shells for individual sized servings and penne when I am making it in a single dish).
2 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk
3 dried bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
Salt & pepper to taste
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons butter
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously coat an 8 x 10 casserole dish or 10 individual ramekins with cooking spray. If you are using ramekins place them on a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside.
- Cook the pasta until al dente according to package instructions. You do not want to over cook it since it will continue to cook in the oven. When done, drain and place in a large bowl.
- Place the milk, bay leaves, and Tabasco sauce in a medium-sized sauce pan. Heat over medium-high heat until scalding. Do not allow to boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes then remove the bay leaves.
- Place the flour in a small bowl. And the milk to the flour and whisk continually until well blended and no lumps remain.
- Return the milk and flour to the sauce pan. Set over medium heat and whisk continually until thickened, approximately 8 to 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the cheeses. Mix until blended then pour over the prepared pasta. Season with salt and pepper and stir until well combined.
- Pour the pasta into the prepared baking dishes.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Add the Panko crumbs and stir to coat.
- Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top of the pasta.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.
The dish can be prepared up to one day ahead of time. Simply allow to come to room temperature (or adjust the baking time accordingly), sprinkle with the crumb topping, and bake.