This week UPI reported that sales of boxed macaroni and cheese increased by 10% in 2007 (story via Jezebel). Furthermore, “half of the country's children will feast on macaroni and cheese at some point during the next two weeks.” Wow! This news will be welcomed by my sister, whose favorite way to tease me about my efforts to buy organic and/or responsible groceries is to describe what she’ll feed her hypothetical nieces and nephews when they come to visit her someday—Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Cheetos, doughnuts, soft drinks—and how much they’ll love her for it. She’s 27, the same age I was when I made a pot of Kraft Mac & Cheese on a lark and realized I had finally outgrown it. The blue box had served me well during my first few years in New York, but my experiments with homemade macaroni and cheese eventually robbed it of its appeal.
Though my younger self would have wrinkled her nose at their crusty tops and pale interiors—in fact, I probably would have refused to eat anything that had to be sliced rather than spooned up out of an orange-glowing pot—I was pretty proud of my béchamel-bound macaroni casseroles with their rotating cast of cheeses. So I was blown away last fall when my mother served us Ina Garten’s macaroni and cheese: it was somehow much better than any I had ever made. The method is the same, but Garten, of course, gets the proportions just right. (She also tops the whole thing with buttered breadcrumbs, which I had not tried but now love, and includes sliced tomatoes, which I do not—pure cheese, please.) It is, as far as I’m concerned, the perfect recipe for soothing, uncomplicated macaroni and cheese, and it had been sitting on my shelf all this time, neglected, untapped! Now I just have to see if I can get my future kids hooked on this before their aunt gets them hooked on the other thing.
- Remember this macaroni and cheese controversy from a couple of years ago? My mom and I still wonder sometimes what Julia Moskin was thinking. Does anyone else out there hate béchamel sauce the way she does?
- On the list of things that make me ready to leave New York: macaroni and cheese with truffles.
- My favorite story about Kraft Macaroni and Cheese (what, you don’t have one?) is Calvin Trillin’s account of how he caught Alice grating Parmigiano Reggiano onto their daughters’ “Kraft dinner.”
About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was really cutting into her cooking time. Now she is a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.
- Yield:6 to 8
- Kosher salt
- Vegetable oil
- 1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
- 1 quart milk
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 12 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (about 4 cups)
- 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (made from 5 slices white bread, crusts removed)
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drizzle oil into the boiling water, add the macaroni, and cook according to package instructions, 6-8 minutes. Drain well.
Meantime, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but do not allow it to boil. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour all at once. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. Whisk in the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off heat, stir in the Gruyère, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart (9 x 13-inch) baking dish.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, toss with the fresh bread crumbs to coat evenly, and sprinkle all over the top of the casserole. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on top.