Homemade Baked Macaroni and Cheese

In my house, pasta is a true staple. My two daughters would each be willing to eat it at almost every meal. One way they are unwilling eat it is with powdered cheese and out of a box. This is because I have introduced them to homemade macaroni and cheese, though I should say pasta and cheese, because we aren’t picky when it comes to the shape of the pasta.

The sauce that I make for the pasta and cheese starts as a basic bechamel sauce. The first step in making it is melting butter. How much I melt depends on the total amount of sauce I am making. Once the butter is melted, I turn the heat under my pan down to medium and add an equal amount of all purpose flour to the butter (e.g., 3 Tbs of butter and 3 Tbs of flour).

This combination of butter and flour is a roux. I stir the roux for a few minutes, to cook the flour and get rid of any raw flour taste. At this point, I add milk. The amount of milk depends on how much butter and flour are in the roux. If I use 3 Tbs each of butter and flour, I will need about 1 1/2 cups of milk. Once I add the milk, I need to whisk the sauce constantly until it begins to thicken. This is when the hosts of cooking shows say to add a bit of nutmeg. It definitely adds a little something to the sauce.

Once the bechamel sauce has thickened, I add some cheese. This can be almost any cheese, but varieties that melt easily work best. Usually I add some shredded colby-jack because it has a mild flavor and even provides a bit of orange color (but not the unnatural orange that comes powdered in a packet). Given the amounts of butter, flour and milk I mentioned previously, I would add 3/4 of a cup or so of the cheese to this sauce. Technically, the addition of cheese to the bechamel makes this a mornay sauce.

Once combined with the pasta, this is a basic stove-top version of macaroni and cheese. If I have a bit more time, I like to introduce additional flavors and finish the dish in the oven. In terms of additional flavors, it is fun to be creative. Recently, I fried a single strip of bacon until it was fairly crispy and crumbled it into the mornay sauce. I then sauteed some finely minced red onion in the bacon drippings and added that to the sauce as well. Finally, I stirred in some smoked blue cheese nuggets before ladling the sauce and pasta into individual crocks. I top each crock with a little shredded parmesan cheese.

I put the crocks into a 450 degree oven and let them bake for about 15 minutes. Then I switch from the oven to the broiler, just long enough to get the parmesan cheese to become nice and golden.

Although it takes a bit longer to make this version of macaroni and cheese than something that comes from a box, it is so much better you will probably never go back.



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