One of my favorite meals for a cold, rainy Portland winter evening is macaroni and cheese. Not the kind from a box (though I have been known to mix up a box of Annie’s organic in a pinch), but the kind that requires a real cheese sauce and good pasta.
With that in mind, I made a quick stop on my way home last night to pick up milk and cheese. I stopped at Food Front, a local co-op and was lucky to find Straus Family milk (the kind that comes in a glass jar and has a plug of real cream at the top, even when the milk is lowfat),
and some local (well, produced in Washington) cheese. I chose two different cheeses: Medium Cheddar (made with cow’s milk) and Goat Milk Cheddar.
When I got home, I pulled out my favorite mac and cheese from scratch recipe: the one in Mark Bittman’s original How to Cook Everything cookbook. I love the aromatic flavor that infusing the milk with bay leaves provides. Of course, I never follow a recipe exactly, so here’s my version (it serves four hungry people):
1 pound pasta
2 ½ cups milk
2 bay leaves
4 tbs + 1 tsp butter, divided
3 tbs all purpose flour
2 ½ cups grated cheese (I used a mixture of the two cheddars)
Freshly ground black pepper
Panko bread crumbs (approximately ¾ cup)
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
Bring a large pot of salted* water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain pasta thoroughly and rinse with cold water to stop it from cooking any more. Set cooked pasta aside.
Place the milk and bay leaves in a small pan and heat slowly over medium low heat. When small bubbles form around the edge of the pan, turn off the heat.
Use 1 tsp of butter to grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
Melt the remaining 4 tbs butter in a saucepan over medium heat until foamy and just beginning to brown. Whisk in the flour. Continue whisking for about 5 minutes until the roux is a light golden brown.
Remove the bay leaves from the warm milk and whisk about ¼ cup of the milk into the roux. Continue slowly adding milk to the roux and whisking after each addition until all of the milk has been added and the sauce is smooth and thick. Add the grated cheese and stir until the cheese melts completely. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the cooled pasta with the cheese sauce and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Cover liberally with Panko bread crumbs. Add a sprinkle of paprika.
Bake for 15 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the top is lightly browned. Serve hot.
*I have mixed feelings about salting water for pasta — some people say it’s a must, others say it adds extra, unnecessary, salt to a dish. I’ll leave it up to you.
We ate almost all of it — must have been good!