Mac & Cheese is my generation’s original comfort food. It was on home menus so often that it became a packaged food that our moms used for convenience. But many of us kids who grew up with Mac & Cheese from “the box” are now parents seeking the same comfort with a homemade spin.
We started a Mac & Cheese Night at the Hunter house when Benny and Nicky were babies and still carry on the tradition five years later. Our version changes with the kind of cheese, pasta and goodies we have in the house, but the classic recipe below is a good starting point. It can be made a day or two in advance and conveniently reheated for dinner and a few easy lunches.
Wolfgang Puck’s signature 4-cheese version with Gorgonzola was one of the most popular items on our bistro menu. And as consulting chef to Weber Grill Restaurants, I’m developing a Mac & Cheese that will be made on their famous Kettle grills.
Classic Mac & Cheese
8 ounces elbow pasta
2 tablespoons butter or oil
3/4 cup heavy cream or milk
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 cups loosely packed grated Cheddar cheese
Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain, toss with the butter or oil, spoon into an 8-inch X 8-inch casserole dish, and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 350°F. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the heavy cream, cayenne, salt and pepper. When the cream begins to boil, add the Parmesan and 3 cups of the Cheddar cheese, and stir together over low heat until the Cheddar cheese melts. Pour the sauce over the pasta and top with the remaining Cheddar cheese. (Can be made several hours to a day in advance. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator.)
Bake the macaroni and cheese for 15 minutes (30 minutes if it has been refrigerated) or until the cheese is bubbling hot. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Make it Restaurant-Style:
Irish: Dubliner cheese, smoky bacon and a shot of beer in the cheese sauce
Southern-style: Sliced tomatoes with toasted breadcrumbs
Chili: Seasoned ground beef, sautéed onions and chopped tomatoes
Four Cheese: Mozzarella, Fontina, Parmesan and Gorgonzola
Loaded: Crumbled bacon, sour cream and chives
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