Monday, September 1, 2014

Mmmmmmacaroni and Cheese

Left to their own devices, my sons might eat macaroni and cheese every meal of their lives.  An admonition to "Make it from scratch" does not slow them down much, and one even follows all the steps in the Cook's Illustrated version.

Me, I just whomp things together and change it up depending on what we've got in the house. It's Hatch green chile time here, when cases of green chilies are brought in from Hatch, New Mexico. Roasted, peeled and seeded, these suckers are awesome, available in a fruity mild variety and a spicier variety. Obviously, I'm going to toss these in my mac and cheese when I can.

This makes a large batch--you could divide by two or three if you're not heading to a potluck...

Start a big pot of water to boiling. Add a tablespoon or more of salt.
Today's batch used 1.5 pounds of elbow macaroni, but other tubey/fun pasta works, too.

While the water is coming to a boil, prep and saute your veg:

1 small onion, diced
1 T. oil
1 large hatch pepper, peeled and seeded (if you have to, you could substitute half a can of green chilies)
1-2 cloves garlic
Adobo seasoning to taste 
After five minutes or so, add:
1/2 t. turmeric (for color and rich flavor. Also supposed to be good for your liver and colon.)

Around now the water will come to a boil--get the pasta in the pot.  You only want it to go to the toothy side of al dente, so keep an eye on it...

Also, start your oven preheating to 400 degrees Farenheit.

Meanwhile...When the veggies are softened, you'll build a roux:
1 stick butter (allow to melt with the veggies)
then add 1/2 c. flour

Give the roux a few minutes to cook as you stir it periodically.
Then gradually add 4 cups of milk (I use skim)--I heat the milk in the microwave if I want things to come together faster.

When the milk mixture is somewhat thick, start adding CHEEEEESE. I use a mix of what's in the house, making sure there's some sort of melty Colby or not-too-sharp Cheddar somewhere in the mix. Today there was also a Hatch chile Monterey jack. Yum.  I have a kitchen helper shred about three cups of cheese total-- half gets added to the cheese sauce, and half will be used in assembly.

When the pasta is toothy but not crunchy, drain it, reserving a little of the cooking water.

I mix together the pasta and cheese sauce in a large mixing bowl, or you can return it to the cooking pot (if you pour the reserved cooking water elsewhere.) You want a mix that is a little gooey, but not soupy--it should make something of a shlorpy noise as you stir it. If you need a little more liquid, pour in some of the cooking water--which also has pasta starch to help pull things together.

Hit a baking dish with cooking spray so you do not spend forty minutes with a chisel*.

Then begin layering the casserole--cover the bottom of the dish with pasta, then sprinkle in some cheese, then more pasta, then cheese, then pasta, then cheese.

If you like, you can add a crust-- tonight was a mix of melted butter and panko with a little salt and some chipotle chili powder. You can sub cornflakes or potato chips for the panko, and sometimes I add crumbled bacon to the mix.  

Slide that casserole into the oven and let bake until bubbly and let the crust brown. (If you're in a hurry or want better color on the crust, the broiler can be used thoughtfully. Stay in the room eh?)


*We found this out the hard way when I forgot to spray the inside of the crock pot before setting out this stuff for a party.  After three hours on low, there was something of mac-n-cheese jerky welded around the edges.

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