GOOD Mac'n Cheese for AthenaeusI will start with a bit of history, then a recipe:
It’s difficult to know exactly when the first batch of macaroni and cheese was cooked, but the dish’s history reaches back at least to the colonial era. Thomas Jefferson returned from a trip to Italy with a pasta machine, and served macaroni and cheese at dinner parties. Centuries later, in 1937, Kraft introduced a version that came packaged in the familiar blue boxes that are staples in pantries across the country. The following version of macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods—rich, flavorful, and easy to make.
MACARONI AND CHEESE
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
6 slices good white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into bowl with bread, and toss. Set the bread crumbs aside.
2. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat the milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a medium pot over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. While whisking, slowly pour in hot milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère or 1 cup pecorino Romano; set cheese sauce aside.
5. Fill a large saucepan with water; bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer’s directions, until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. Pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese and1/2 cup Gruyère or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano, and bread crumbs over top. Bake until browned on top, 45 to 60 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Serve garnished with sour cream if desired.
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