By Eileen Goltz
Regardless of how old my kids get, mac-and-cheese is still one of the first things they want to make when they are hungry. And to tell the truth, I kinda like it too.
For most, mac-and-cheese is a made-from-a-box kind of dish. While those prepackaged, ready-made, full-of-salt-and-additives powdered cheese dishes are “OK,” the made-from-scratch stuff is so awesomely delicious and simple, I promise you’ll never buy the other stuff again.
So how do you cook the perfect pasta to accompany the perfect cheese sauce? First, boil 5 to 6 quarts of water per one pound of uncooked pasta. Add the pasta, mix to swirl, and then let the water re-boil. Stir about once every two minutes while it’s boiling. The cooking time will vary depending on the kind of pasta you’re using, so check on the box for the cook time. If you’re making a dish that is going to require extra cook time, slightly undercook the pasta by about one-third the time suggested on the box. You need to taste the pasta to see if it’s the consistency you want. Pasta that is cooked should be al dente, firm to the bite, not hard, not mushy, but cooked through with a bit of resistance. Drain your pasta immediately; do not let it sit in the water—it will continue to cook even if it’s removed from the heat. Some recipes call for you to rinse the pasta, others don’t—it just depends on what you’re planning to do with it or adding to it, or what you’re adding the pasta to.
Don’t rinse drained pasta unless you’re planning to make a cold pasta dish. Starch from the cooked pasta clings to unrinsed hot pasta and it helps the hot sauce coat the pasta. I always save a little of the cooking water from the pasta when I drain it if I need to thin whatever sauce I’m making.
8 oz. uncooked small to medium pasta shapes
= 4 cups cooked
8 oz. uncooked long pasta
= 4 cups cooked
8 oz. uncooked egg noodles
= 2½ cups cooked
4 cups whole milk or a combination of milk and half & half
1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup flour
2 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 lb. elbow macaroni
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated parmesan
⅔ cup panko (optional)
In a saucepan, heat the milk to a simmer then set it aside. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
While whisking constantly, slowly add the hot milk to the flour mixture until evenly combined and smooth. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk, then thin out.)
Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and, while whisking constantly, cook until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 2–3 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the salt, taste, and add the remaining salt as desired. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until it’s almost al dente (just on the edge of being underdone), then drain and rinse with cold water; set aside. (If you plan to top the mac-and-cheese with panko and bake it, heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle.)
Place the reserved saucepan of béchamel over medium heat and stir in both cheeses just until melted and smooth. Add the pasta and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is heated through and steaming, about 2–4 minutes. Serve immediately or, if baking, transfer to a 5-quart baking dish, sprinkle with the panko, and bake until bubbling and brown on top, about 25–30 minutes.
Modified from a recipe from the Homeroom in Oakland Restaurant, Oakland, California
Mock Crab Macaroni And Cheese
Dairy and Fish. Serves 4. This recipe can be doubled or tripled.
8 oz. elbow macaroni or small pasta
5½ Tbsp. butter, divided
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. flour
2½ cups milk
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mild pepper jack cheese, divided
½ tsp. salt
⅛ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. nutmeg
4 Tbsp. dry white wine
8 oz. kosher faux crab, chopped
1½ cups bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 2-quart baking dish and set it aside.
Cook pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain, rinse, and set aside. In a saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter and add the parsley and green onions. Sauté for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the flour and whisk until the mixture is bubbly. Slowly whisk in the milk and continue whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside. The beaten egg should be in a small bowl. Remove ¾ cup of the hot mixture and slowly whisk it into the beaten egg, about 2 tablespoons at a time. When you’ve finished whisking the hot mixture into the egg mixture, slowly whisk it back into the hot mixture. Return to the cooktop and over a low heat, add 1 cup of cheddar cheese, ½ cup of the pepper jack, and the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the white wine. Mix to combine. Add the cooked macaroni, mix to combine, then add the kosher crab. Mix to combine.
Spoon the mixture into the greased baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
In a microwavable bowl, melt the 2½ tablespoons of butter and mix in the bread crumbs. Sprinkle them over the cheese. Bake for 25–30 minutes. If the top isn’t golden, you can remove the dish from the oven, bump up the temperature to a broil, and then place the dish under broil for about 1 minute, but watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn.
Submitted by Angela Cardosi, Evanston, IL
Smoked Whitefish And Butternut Mac And Cheese
Dairy and fish. Serves 6.
1 cup toasted breadcrumbs
8 oz. smoked whitefish, broken into pieces
½ cup butter, melted
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
2 cups diced butternut squash
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 Tbsp. butter
2 cups whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup flour
2 cups shredded cheddar or pepper jack
2 cups shredded Swiss or gruyere
1 lb. small pasta (macaroni, penne, bowtie) cooked according to the instructions
Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 9”×13” baking dish and set it aside. Place the breadcrumbs and cooked smoked whitefish in a food processor and process until you have small pieces. With the motor running slowly, add only ¼ cup of the melted butter to the breadcrumb mixture and process for 10–15 seconds. Set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in skillet and add the onions and butternut squash. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté the onions and squash for 5–7 minutes until they are tender and slightly golden. Remove the mixture to a bowl and mash the vegetables, set the mixture aside.
Melt the remaining butter in saucepan, whisk in the flour. Cook for 1–2 minutes, whisking constantly. At this point, whisk in the milk and cream. Bring to a simmer, then add the cheese, stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cooked pasta and squash mixture to the cheese mixture. Mix to combine. Spoon the mixture into the greased baking dish. Sprinkle the smoked whitefish/bread mixture over the top. Bake 15–20 minutes or until golden on top.
Modified from the wickednoodle.com
Caprese Mac And Cheese
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1¼ cups milk
½ cup cream
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, grated
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 oz. macaroni, cooked according to the package instructions, drained, rinsed
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and cream. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. As soon as the mixture reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir in the mozzarella, stirring constantly until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the drained pasta, mix to combine, and heat at a simmer for 2–3 minutes. To serve, spoon onto four plates and top with diced tomatoes and fresh basil.
Modified from Cookingclassy.com
© Eileen Goltz
Eileen Goltz is a freelance kosher foods writer. She graduated from Indiana University and the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris. She lectures on various food-related topics across the U.S. and Canada and writes columns for the CJN in Chicago, kosherscoop.com, and the OU Shabbat Shalom website, www.ou.org. She also wrote the Perfectly Pareve Cookbook (Feldheim).