Macaroni and Cheese from scratch used to scare me. Maybe it was the huge amounts of high-cal cheese, maybe the bechamel sauce, maybe...oh, who knows? The point is, thanks to some gentle prodding by a friend, I faced my fears and am now happy as a clam pulling out the butter and flour and mixin' up a tasty batch of homemade comfort food.
First you need a white sauce:
This can be made easily by melting about 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add a couple tablespoons of flour and whisk until the mixture looks like this:
Next, add about 1 1/2 cups of milk and whisk until the mixture starts to thicken. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of cream cheese, a long squirt of Dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, and a sprinkling of pepper, salt, and garlic powder (I went a little heavy on the GP). If the mixture hasn't thickened up by now, you can add a teaspoon of cornstarch.
Now, the cheese! You can use any mix you like: I used Havarti, cheddar, and pepper jack - about 3/4 cup of each. Havarti is a good melting cheese, pepper jack adds a kick, and cheddar is, well, delicious. I like Seaside English cheddar, but today I used an extra sharp New York kind.
Hint: go to Trader Joe and scope out what's on sale. They usually have really good deals on really good cheese.
Take the mixture off the heat and add the cheese, stirring well to incorporate.
After you've added all the cheese, taste to be sure it's seasoned the way you want. I added a bit of Tabasco for heat - cream sauce can handle a lot of heat, so don't be scared. Drain your pasta and add the cheese sauce to it. I like using gemelli pasta - it's less swirly than fusilli, so it can hold to the thick sauce without breaking into pieces.
Now, you can eat it just like this - that's how I like it - or you can turn it into the baked version by doing the following:
Cut 3 tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices, cover with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and place on an aluminum lined baking pan. Bake at 400 degree for 1/2 hour or until the water has cooked out of them. Spread the mac & cheese mixture (above) in a Pyrex dish and top with a mixture of seasoned Italian breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, and 1/4 cup pecorino. Then place the tomatoes on top and bake again until the top is golden brown. Serve immediately and eat up!