Thursday, March 29, 2007

baby wants mac and cheese

Min's little peanut baby has a lot of growing to do over the next few months, and what better way to put on the pounds than with some homemade Mac 'N Cheese? There are few foods more comforting than pasta and cheese, and though I love me some Annie's Shells with White Cheddar, nothing beats making it from scratch, topping it with bread crumbs and throwing it into the oven to get that crispy top. My recipe is influenced by dozens of other recipes that I've seen and tried, perfected by making it over and over again, changing up the kinds of cheeses and herbs I add to figure out which ones I like best:

Real mac and cheese is actually really simple to make. It's just a classic Mornay sauce, which I'm sure you all known is a Bechamel with grated cheese. Bechamel being one of the French mother sauces. Bechamel, or white sauce, is made up of a Roux and milk. A roux? Butter and flour in equal amounts, whisked over heat. For a Bechamel, you want a blonde roux, which simply means that you only want to cook the roux long enough to get the faintest hint of color. (A roux turns progressively darker brown the longer you cook it, dark rouxs are used, for example, in a gumbo, and have a much deeper flavor). This is totally not sounding simple, huh? It is, here's what you do:

Melt 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Sprinkle 2 tbsp flour evenly over the melted butter and immediately begin whisking. You will start to smell the flour cooking, but if it smells like it's burning, lower your heat. Keep whisking so there are no lumps and no spots burn. As soon as the roux starts to get a very light beige tint, pour in 2 cups milk and whisk until the roux is completely incorporated. Simmer on a low heat , stirring occasionally, to thicken the sauce, about 2-3 minutes. This is a Bechamel. Now you just add shredded cheese to make it a Mornay. The bulk of a classic mac and cheese should be cheddar, I like a sharp white cheddar. But I find that the best mac and cheese has a blend of cheeses. In addition to about 2 cups of cheddar, I usually add another cup of cheese, like parmesan and asiago, or romano and gruyere. Whatever you like! Stir until the cheese melts. Ta-da, a Mornay sauce! Now all you have to do is toss the sauce with your cooked pasta (undercook it by a couple of minutes, since it will go in the oven for a few minutes), pour into a baking dish, top with bread crumbs and bake until the crumb topping is browned and crisp. My favorite bread crumb topping is a combination of 1 cup panko style bread crumbs, 2-3 tbsp olive oil, and 3 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary. Bake in a 400ยบ oven for 15 minutes until browned and crisp on top. Ridiculously delicious!

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