Years ago I had a pretty amazing boss and work “family”. Our boss’s wife was really amazing too. And a pretty darn amazing cook! When we were having a potluck lunch she would almost always bring macaroni and cheese. I wanted to make it and I decided I had to have the recipe! So during a lunch celebration at our boss’s home in which his wife again served up the cheesy goodness, several of us were swooning over the amazing flavor and I declared “I’m going to ask her for the recipe.” Everyone looked at me in shock. They had for years wanted the recipe but none of them dared to ask. Here I was, fairly new to the office, and unafraid to ask! As I always say, “If you don’t ask, it’s already a no”.
I stood up from the table, found our gracious hostess and gushed to her about how much I love her macaroni and cheese and what a wonderful cook she is. Then I asked. I simply looked at her and asked: “Would you perhaps be willing to share your recipe?” She was so happy to pull out her cookbook and share the recipe with me, and all the girls were looking at me, completely astonished at my immense bravery. Ha! Us Cooks have no fear about asking for a recipe. Really, the worst that could have happened is she could have said “I’m sorry, it’s an old family secret” (which I have heard more than once) or she could have provided me with a different recipe than what she actually uses. Either way, no harm done. And I got an awesome recipe!
I have now made this, many years later, only a handful of times. And I usually use different cheeses than what the recipe calls for. I really like adding in some smoked cheese, sometimes even a creamier cheese like brie. Once even a small handful of bleu cheese crumbles got added in. The important thing is to use cheese that you like. And to make plenty for everyone. Oh and if by some chance you happen to have leftovers, please do yourself a favor in reheating them and do so in the oven. I promise you, the flavor of reheating in the oven vs microwave is well worth the time you wait!
Today I am making this most amazing cheesy goodness for a friend’s family. Her children have declared “what’s wrong with Kraft Mac and Cheese”. Well, nothing, I suppose, unless you want actual cheese in your macaroni and cheese. I have the blue boxes sitting here too, just in case I am unable to sway their tastes on this one. But really, it’s cheese, butter, and pasta! How can they not like it? Love it, even? These children are for sure my toughest critics. Since I have known them, I have cooked many meals for them. Most a hit, some are eaten, but I’m not sure enjoyed as much, and when they don’t like something, they speak up about it. (I don’t think I’ll ever be allowed to forget the caramelized carrots fiasco… apparently “caramelized” means something entirely different to a 9-year-old girl than to a 30-something woman who has an immense love of food!)
To make this cheesy goodness for yourself and your faves, you’ll need about 2# of cheese a pound of pasta, plus some butter, flour, milk, spices…oh, and maybe a recipe… please don’t be intimidated. Read through the whole recipe before you start and then just relax and let the process work.
The reviews from my critics have come back and here’s what my toughest critics have to say:
1. I was so stoked to eat it! (14 yr old)
2. So stoked on this macaroni, it’s so dialed! (15 yr old)
3. It was very scrumptious, but very hot (like heat hot) (11 yr old)
4. I thought that it was awesome. (13 yr old)
5. It tasted good. I mean, I ate all of it… (17 yr old…who seemed a little confused that I was asking)
6. It’s ****ing amazing (17 yr old [yes, there was swearing…very excited swearing…] )
Next time I make this, hopefully some adults will be around to enjoy it. Until then, I am pleased that I was able to share this cheesy goodness with a houseful of teens and tweens.
The Great American Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe is from the Pasta & Co. Cookbook
They say not to substitute a smooth tube dried pasta but to always use rigatoni for the best results. They also make a note that it is not a fiery dish, even though it calls for Tabasco and chili powder. The spiciness of the sauce and powder enhance the cheddar flavor.
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 lb mozzarella cheese, grated
3 cups milk
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup flour
1⁄2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1⁄4 cup romano cheese, grated
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1⁄3 teaspoon white pepper
1 lb rigatoni pasta
3⁄4 teaspoon chili powder
3⁄4 cup milk
Combine grated Cheddar and mozzarella and set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat milk until near boiling. Turn off heat. Melt butter in a heavy pan large enough to hold the pasta after it is cooked. (It will take at least a 14-inch saute pan or a large casserole that can take direct heat.) When foam from butter recedes, remove from heat, add flour, and mix well. Return to medium-low heat, and, stirring occasionally, simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to cook, but not brown, the flour. Gradually stir in hot milk. Raise heat to medium-high and continue stirring until mixture is smooth and thick (about 5 minutes). Add Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Whisk until smooth. Add Tabasco and white pepper and blend.
Cook rigatoni in boiling salted water about 4 minutes. (It will be underdone, but will finish cooking later.) Thoroughly drain rigatoni and fold it into the cheese mixture.
If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Layer one-half the rigatoni mixture into a 9×13 pan. Top with one-half of the Cheddar and mozzarella. Repeat layers. Top with chili powder, sprinkled evenly over top.
If not baking immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze. When ready to bake, drizzle the 3/4 cup milk over the dish. Bake for approximately one hour. If frozen, add at least 20 minutes to baking time. The dish should be rusty brown on top. Should it appear to be browning too fast, cover with foil for part of cooking time. Be sure to check for doneness in the very center of the dish.