November 8, 2010

Macaroni and cheese

It's the time of year for comfort food and macaroni and cheese is one of the ultimate comfort foods. It's a perfect dish for a cold day or after a rough day at work. Macaroni and cheese is at its best when it is bubbling from the oven and beginning to form patches of browned cheesy goodness. For this batch of macaroni and cheese, I used all cheddar cheese and I used penne pasta. You can switch up the cheese and mix a couple of different kinds. Sometimes I add some mozzarella (or smoked mozzarella), Monterey jack, or any other cheese that melts well, but the majority is always cheddar. Make sure you get a high-quality cheese (i.e., not a processed cheese) so that it melts well and does not get grainy or oily. You can use a different type of pasta as well. 

Macaroni and cheese
1 12 oz. box penne pasta 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 cups whole milk
2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
a few dashes of hot sauce (optional)
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

While the pasta is cooking, warm the butter in a medium-large pot. Add the garlic and let cook until soft. Whisk in the flour and cook for about two minutes. Add the milk and whisk until all the flour clumps are broken up and smooth. Continue to whisk and cook the milk mixture over medium heat until it begins to thicken, about 10 minutes. Add the mustard, salt, pepper, and hot sauce, if using. Whisk together. Once thickened, remove from heat and begin to add the cheese slowly in batches of about 1/4 cup. Continuing whisking until all the cheese is added and melted.

Stir in the drained pasta until the noodles are covered with the cheese mixture. Pour the macaroni and cheese into a baking dish and transfer to the oven. Bake until the cheese gets all bubbly and begins to turn golden brown, about 15 minutes.

If you want, you can top the macaroni and cheese with some breadcrumbs or some sliced tomatoes. Serve hot.

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