Few things say “comfort food” like homemade macaroni and cheese. Not the stuff from the box: that’s good too, but in a different way. No, the stuff I’m talking about is creamy, rich, bubbling out from beneath a crispy top, and warms the soul on a rainy Seattle winter night.
I love macaroni and cheese (can you tell?) and I have two fallback recipes: One from The New Basics Cookbook, which is a slightly updated version of my other recipe, from the back of the Mueller’s Egg Noodles box. I like both recipes, but with The Child refusing to eat meat, I’ve become somewhat tired of the same ole thing – and by “somewhat tired” I mean desperately bored.
In Mac & Cheese, Please!: 50 Super Cheesy Recipes Laura Werlin offers up fifty variations on the theme, broken into several types: Classic, those with vegetables added, those with meat, decadent, and lighter versions. I didn’t really see the point of that last one, though I probably should and can see where someone else might. I also didn’t get the point of the chapter on breakfast mac and cheese, but that might also just be me: I don’t care for breakfast burritos, either.
I appreciated the opening section full of tips for successful mac & cheese making, such as seemingly obvious things I never knew (salt the pasta cooking water, it adds flavor), lists of cheeses to try complete with explanations of how they melt (or don’t), and what pasta shapes work well. I found the intro to be very useful for those who want to experiment a bit.
I tried the recipe for broccoli mac and cheese, because I’m game for any recipe that might induce The Child to eat the occasional vegetable. It wasn’t difficult to make, was delightfully rich, and the addition of cayenne pepper gave it a nice kick that set it apart from the usual. I loved it; The Child liked it initially but then changed her mind (Can you guess? “Too spicy”). My local store was out of shallots the day I looked, so I gave the dish a retro vibe as Ms. Werlin suggested and used canned french fried onions. It called Betty Draper to mind.
I love Betty Draper. Apart from the blond thing and plaid kitchen, she and I have lots in common.
- ¾ cup vegetable or peanut oil
- 6 shallots, cut crosswise as thin as possible, separated into rings
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 tsp kosher salt
- 8 ounces penne pasta or small shells
- 8 cups broccoli florets, cut into small pieces
- 8 tbsp butter
- ¾ cup chopped onion.
- 12 ounces mushrooms quartered (I omitted these)
- black pepper
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 12 ounces cheddar cheese, grated (3½ cups)
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp mustard powder
- ⅛ tsp nutmeg
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, saute shallots until browned and crisp, 3-4 minutes. Drain on paper towels; they will continue to crisp as they cool. Season lightly with salt. These can be made up to three days ahead and stored in an airtight container; you can also substitute canned fried onions.
- Butter a 1½ quart baking dish or six 8-ounce ramekins.
- Fill a 4 or 5 quart pan with water, and 1 tbsp salt, and bring to a boil. Add pasta. After 8 minutes, add the broccoli and cook and additional 3-4 minutes. Drain and reserve the pot.
- In a medium skillet, melt 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until soft and creamy in texture, about 6-8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
- In the pot you used for the pasta, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Slowly whisk in flour until a paste forms, 30 seconds. Continue whisking for 1-2 minutes more, until mixture starts to darken and smell a bit nutty. Slowly whisk in the milk, cream, and ½ tsp salt and cook until the mixture starts to bubble around the edges, 5-7 minutes. Add 2½ cups of the cheddar, and the cayenne, mustard, and nutmeg. Stir until the sauce is thick and creamy, about the texture of cake batter.
- Add the pasta-broccoli mixture to the sauce along with the onion/mushroom mixture. Stir to combine. Pour into baking dish. Distribute shallots (or canned onions) over the top along with the remaining grated cheese.
- Place dish on a rimmed baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Let sit 15 minutes after removing from oven.
This is my contribution to Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Why not swing by and see what other culinary surprises await?
Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. The book will be released on December 4.