December 16, 2011

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

I learned to make macaroni and cheese in Germany. It was winter, it was dark, it was cold, and I was homesick. I had noodles, flour, butter, cheese, nutmeg, and milk. My first attempts were delicious, if a little rough around the edges. Sometimes I didn't get the right proportion of cheese to milk. I never made a roux, but just let the hot noodles melt the cheese. My version of stovetop mac and cheese was really a cross between macaroni and Käsespätzle, the delicious German noodles with Swiss cheese. My flatmates would sometimes wander into the kitchen during these experiments, peer into the pot, and wrinkle their noses good-naturedly. (What ARE you cooking? I would tell them that I was cold and missed the American South.) Once I had a whole enclave of American expats over for a macaroni and cheese party. I made two pounds of the stuff. We drank local beer and spoke English way into the night. It's the simple things in life, you know.
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.

This is perfect as a main dish for girls' night, or as a side dish with chicken or pork. Try different variations as well - cayenne pepper, habanero Jack cheese, ham, peppers, onions. Or just serve by itself alongside a pretty lettuce salad and light vinaigrette.

Pin It

No comments:

Post a Comment