CREAMY MACARONI AND CHEESE
I used to make Martha’s baked macaroni and cheese and I was always mad at myself for what it cost with the fancy cheeses only to be ruined in the oven and ending up with stringy cheese, sticky pasta chunks and soggy breadcrumbs. I don’t care what Martha or America’s Test Kitchen says. The best mac and cheese is cooked on the stovetop, not from a package mind you, but nevertheless it must not go into the oven. Just watch the video, the chef prepares an adult version of mac and cheese with the same principle.
Be sure to make the béchamel first. It can be made ahead of time and then warmed up just before it is added to the hot pasta. When making béchamel, clarify the butter first. This will cut the butter you need in half! Clarifying is just slowly cooking away the milk solids and ending up with butter fat. The butter fat will combine with double of its volume of flour. Otherwise the ordinary proportion of fat and flour in roux is 1:1. Clarifying butter only takes a few minutes, but the benefit far outweighs the time you will spend on it. Never add the cheese to the béchamel sauce. If cheese is brought to the boil it becomes a stringy mass. When making cheese sauce, the cheese is always added to the hot béchamel before serving; the same applies here.
Cook the pasta al dante and always cook it just before serving. If your pasta is tender or for some reason has to be reheated, it is best to save it for some other use. Soft pasta makes for very overcooked macaroni and cheese. Not too nice. If you want your pasta with lots of sauce, increase the béchamel and the cheese. I like mine just coated with sauce and not swimming in it.
1/8 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1-1/2 cups milk
1 pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
2 cups elbow macaroni
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
freshly grated parmesan for garnish [optional]
• Melt the butter in a large pot over low medium heat.
• Slowly simmer until the milk solids are cooked away.
• Add the flour and continually stirring make a roux.
• Gradually whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a simmer.
• Grate the nutmeg into the mixture.
• If you end up with chunks of flour, strain the sauce into a bowl and pour it back into the pot. • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
• Add the macaroni and boil until not quite tender.
• Meanwhile grate the cheddar cheese and set it aside.
• Drain and rinse with a little bit of hot running water. Do not soak or submerge the pasta in water. You want some starch to remain on the pasta.
• Add the hot pasta to the hot béchamel.
• Add the grated cheese and stir to combine.
• Heat it through and serve the mac and cheese immediately.
• Sprinkle the top with freshly grated parmesan cheese or not.
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