How to make delicious Macaroni and Cheese

    Macaroni and cheese
    Macaroni and cheese

    [dropcap]C[/dropcap]omfort food. There’s a reason why it’s called that. We think of our favorite dishes from childhood, celebrations, holidays, feasts. Our mouths and noses water at the smell of apples and pastry stiffening in the oven, bean soup simmering on the stove, juicy chicken frying in a pan.

    Why do those foods comfort us? Not because of how they were made or why, but who. Who we associate with love, warmth, and getting together around a table. Not food on the fly, not instant anything, but slow food—slow in that we have to wait to eat it. Slow like pot roast steeping in its juices. Slow like anticipation. Slow as though given in love.

    There’s something deep and wise about comfort food. Comfort isn’t just about satisfying oneself, it’s also about the One who comforts. “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26). Comforter comes from the Greek word Paraclete: advocate, intercessor, to help, strengthen, to call to one’s aid, one who comforts. Comfort food testifies truly. It is honest, real, and satisfying. To soothe, console, reassure, bring cheer, give hope to, relieve. Comfort food does all those things. Even when it takes time, it gives a sense of ease to the one who makes it. Comfort food is not pretentious. It does not try to impress. It does not tie us in knots when we cook it for guests.

    One of those comfort foods is macaroni and cheese. Not the freeze-dried, processed stuff filled with artificial ingredients and prepackaged in a box, but the velvety sauce made from real cheddar and swiss.

    But, you say, the boxed stuff is cheap and fast. And I say, yes, but is it good? Does it comfort you to make it? This macaroni and cheese does. It’s so cheesy, so creamy, so buttery, you’ll never make that other kind again. I even serve this dish for guests. It’s that good.

    This mac-and-cheese is made with penne pasta. Penne, which you’ll find in grocery stores with other pastas, is shaped like a small hollow tube and has a ribbed surface. The tubes allow the sauce to ooze through the middle, and the tiny ribs prevent the sauce from sliding off the way it does with elbow macaroni. That way every piece of pasta is coated with sauce. Now that’s comfort!

    Here’s a time-saving tip: Cook the entire box of penne, save what you don’t need by coating it with a little cooking oil so as not to stick, and pop it into the freezer. Voila. You have pasta ready for next time or another recipe. Just heat it in the microwave or douse it in boiling water for a minute. You can do this with almost any thick pasta, including lasagna noodles.

    Macaroni and Cheese recipe

    4 cups penne pasta cooked

    2 ½ cups cold milk

    2 Tablespoons cornstarch

    ¼ cup onions grated

    1 teaspoon dry mustard

    ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

    ¼ teaspoon salt

    ¼ teaspoon white pepper

    8-ounce package cheddar cheese grated

    4 oz. swiss cheese grated

    ¼ cup bread crumbs

    1 Tablespoon butter

    Blend milk and cornstarch. Add butter, onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Cook until thick. Add cheeses. Brown crumbs in butter. In baking dish layer pasta and sauce and sprinkle with crumbs. Bake at 350 until brown, about 20 minutes. Serves 5.

    One more time-saving tip: We are just two at home, so we make the full recipe, and except for baking it, freeze half. Then we pop it right from the freezer into the oven until it bubbles.

    You can substitute other cheeses you like for the swiss as long as the cheddar taste is dominant. And don’t skip the browned crumbs. They add a golden-crunchy color and texture to the pasta. I serve the dish with a salad and canned diced tomatoes. The tomatoes—heated, and with the addition of a bit of sugar, salt, and basil–make a good acidic contrast to the creamy cheese sauce, and the salad adds texture and color.

    The thought of this soothing dish on a cold winter day makes me hum the opening lines from Handel’s Messiah: “Comfort ye. Comfort ye my people, saith your God.”

    Joanne Cutting-Gray, Ph.D., is an author, scholar, and lifelong student of cooking. She lives with her husband in Savannah, Georgia.


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