|Leipzig, Germany, where I learned to make macaroni and cheese|
These days, my macaroni and cheese is lots more sophisticated. I have gone through several recipes - baked mac and cheese with rich egg-based sauce, spicy mac and cheese with cheddar and chorizo, mac and cheese with bacon and onions, mac and cheese with truffle oil and mushrooms. But this recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated is, quite simply, the gold standard. It's made with a simple eggless white sauce, two cheeses, and plenty of nutmeg and pepper. You can make a breadcrumb topping and pop it under the broiler if you like, but I personally prefer stovetop mac. It reminds me of Germany and it looks, smells, and tastes so good right from the pot.
I made this the other night for two of my gorgeous bridesmaids, both of whom ordered bridesmaid dresses that night for something like 70% off. From J. Crew. Delivery took 24 hours. That's the kind of retail magic this macaroni and cheese inspires. And if you ever find yourself in the middle of a cold, dark winter in the former East Germany and have a hankering for American taste, make this. It's a veritable pot of gold.
Macaroni and Cheese
1 pound Cavatappi (or other spiral or shell-shaped pasta)
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon powdered dry mustard
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 cups milk
2 cups fat-free half & half
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
8 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded
Cook pasta in a Dutch oven according to directions or until al dente. Drain and set aside. In the still-warm pot, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add flour and mustard and whisk constantly, until fully combined with butter and dark yellow in color, a little less than 1 minute.
Gradually whisk in nutmeg, milk and cream, stirring constantly, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, 5-7 minutes, whisking occasionally. Sauce should be thick but still fluid. Take the sauce off heat and stir in cheeses until completely melted. Add pasta and let macaroni and cheese warm over low to medium heat a few more minutes before serving.