Posted by Ethne~
My girls are big fans of mac n’ cheese. I am too, truth be told. The kind with the powdered yellow cheese powder is at the top of the list – I won’t deny I like Kraft too. Ah, well, I thought it was about time we make it homestyle.
I think I saw the general principle for this method on Rachael Ray’s show, but I’m not unfamiliar with making a roux (pronounced 'roo'). You use it to thicken sauces, make gravy (i.e., for fried green tomatoes – yes, I do that, it’s AWESOME, and you will learn when the tomatoes grow in Thrifty Nana’s garden), beer cheese soup and so on.
This is what you’ll need:
- One 8 oz. block of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (or the equivalent of pre-shredded cheese – a little more cheese would be good, but don’t use less)
- About ½ to 1/3 cup milk, whatever % you have
- 2 T. butter (I always use unsalted – it’s totally pure that way)
- A sprinkle of flour, about 1-2 T. (I used whole wheat flour – I get a little whole grain in where I can)
- ½ cup of the pasta water
- Small pasta such as mini penne, mini bowtie or regular elbow macaroni (whole wheat pasta would be good too)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Shaun planned our steak grilling thinking this would take 30 minutes or more to make. It came together faster than that. I boiled the pasta in nice, salty water. Be sure you always use a big pot and lots of water – pasta likes to swim (Thrifty Nana tip). Cook till the pasta is the doneness you like; in the meantime grate your cheese.
Before straining the water off the pasta, take out the pasta water and reserve. I always mix a little pasta water with my pasta sauces – somehow it always makes it perfect, no matter what kind of sauce you’re making. The starches probably.
Toss the drained pasta with a drizzle of olive oil to keep it from sticking and clumping together. Set it aside (put the lid on the pot so it stays warm while you make the sauce).
The sauce is easy. Melt the 2 T. of butter in a frying pan over medium heat – don’t let it go any further than that so you don’t burn the butter.
Sprinkle in the flour and stir around until it turns into a thick paste. Don’t let it go any further than that so you don’t burn the paste. See a pattern? This paste is called a roux.
Drizzle in the milk and stir around until it’s incorporated into the butter paste. Sprinkle in a small handful of cheese at a time, and stir continuously until it’s creamy and melted; do this continuously until all of the cheese is fully melted. I added the pasta water at this time and stirred it around until smooth again.
Taste the sauce now. Salt and pepper to your preference.
Stir the whole shebang together and done. Isn’t that easy? Now that you know this general principle, you can make just about anything – it is this same cheese-roux that is the basis for beer-cheese soup. Yum. If you want to go crazy, you could put the mac n' cheese into a greased casserole dish, top with cheese and bake for 20 minutes till browned on top.
So what was Easy Mac and KD’s reaction? They wondered what it was since it wasn’t mac n’ cheese. Well, pick your poison.
MOM HEALTH TIP: I’ve made this before and added ½-cup of butternut or other pureed squash to the cheese roux before mixing with the pasta. This is a great way to sneak in a veggie, and since it’s pureed and yellow/orange in color, your kids won’t know the difference. Pureed cauliflower would work too.
Enjoy Friends! You should have a lot of fun with this recipe. It really is superb. And there is just some pride in being able to cook homemade mac n’ cheese. No processed ANYTHING necessary. J