Christina Dodd’s Mac and Cheese

I know what you’re thinking. It’s November, time for intricate, time-consuming meals, and Christina is talking about macaroni and cheese?

Because in among the turkey and dressing and gravy and sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie and apple pie and blueberry pie (wait, I have to wipe the slobber off my chin), you have to have a simple meal to fix. And who doesn’t love a big pan of mac and cheese, baked to creamy perfection and served with a side of steamed broccoli or green beans? My family actually makes nummy noises when I serve my mac and cheese.

Do I have a secret recipe? Why, yes, I guess you could say that, if you call the recipe out of my old, very old, red and white plaid Better Homes and Gardens cookbook “secret.” I do, by the way, have the recipe memorized, but I’ll check to make sure I give it to you correctly.

Oven 350 degrees
Ingredients:

1 ½ cups elbow or corkscrew pasta
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
¼ teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
¼ cup minced fresh onion (optional)
8 ounces sharp cheddar

Directions:

Spray 1 ½ quart casserole lightly with cooking spray. Pre-heat in oven.

Cook pasta until tender: drain.

In saucepan, melt butter, blend in flour, salt, pepper. Add milk (I heat mine a little in the microwave first); cook until thick & bubbly. Add onion (we leave it out when my youngest is home, but always make sure we point out our sacrifice since she’s the only one in the family who doesn’t like onion). Add cheddar. Stir until melted.

Mix cheese sauce with pasta. Put in pre-heated casserole. Put casserole in oven. Bake 35-40 minutes.

Okay, yes, I admit it, I have one secret and a couple of tweaks, but I don’t do them all the time. One of the great things about mac and cheese is that it’s so forgiving.

The tweaks:

— I like cheddar macaroni and cheese, but you can use whatever cheese you’ve got hanging around. Mine almost always has a little parmesan grated into it, too.
— Use really sharp cheese. You can cut back on the amount and still get the great flavor, and it’s less calories and better for your cholesterol. (Hey! Every little bit helps!)
— You can put toppings on it. I love to put crushed potato chips on in the last ten minutes of baking and sort of mush them into the top. (Yes, there goes the calorie count again.) Try salted tomatoes or fried bacon bits or cornflakes mixed with a little melted butter.
— If you’ve got left over ham, cube it and bake it into the mac and cheese. It’s orgasmic.

The secret:

Use a wide-bottomed, really heavy duty casserole. Mine is the Emile Henry Flame Top 12-Inch Brazier. It’s absurdly expensive, but I got it on a great after-Christmas sale and realized I had struck gold. It’s good for all kind of cooking, but when you pre-heat it before you bake the mac and cheese in it, it develops this golden crust on the bottom that makes grown men weep. Also, it’s wider than the normal casserole so there’s a lot of that golden crust.

Oh! And a wine to go with macaroni and cheese. Because my mac and cheese is very flavorful, I like a red. Try Concho y Toro Xplorador Malbec, a wine with strawberry and vanilla spice notes, not too intense, very pleasant, and the best part — it’s $7 a bottle! My husband and I have found it on sale for $5.99.

Now pardon me, I’ve talked myself into making mac and cheese for dinner. Enjoy your time in Bella Terra, and happy eating! I mean … reading!

Christina Dodd and the Infamous Three-Armed Cover
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Nonna’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

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