In the middle of the bleak midwinter, comfort food is the best salve for cold days and long nights. Mac and cheese is at the top of my list, especially as a means of using up surplus cheese from the holidays. I also like to use up all the various pasta shapes I have in the pantry - although elbow macaroni is classic, small shells, penne, rotini or virtually any pasta shape will do the trick.
As for the cheese, you can be just as creative - anything flavourful and meltable will do. I love aged cheddar and Gouda, but bits of blue or other cheese ends can be tossed in as well. Serve it straight from the pot on the stovetop, or pour it into a baking dish and bake until bubbly, topped with a crunchy mixture of breadcrumbs, butter and more cheese. Then curl up on the couch with snuggly socks and a fork.
Real Mac & Cheese
3/4 lb. elbow macaroni, rotini, small shells or penne pasta
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
3-4 cups (about 250 g) grated aged cheddar, Gouda or a combination
salt & pepper
1/2 cup Panko or other dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup butter, melted
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to the package directions. Drain and transfer to a bowl.
Return the empty pan to the heat and add the oil and butter. When the foam subsides, add the flour and stir, cooking, for a minute. Gradually whisk in about a cup of the milk, whisk until smooth and then add the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat, whisking often, until the mixture comes to a boil; let it boil gently for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Stir in the cheese, remove from the heat and stir until the cheese melts and the sauce is smooth. Stir in the pasta and season with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 350°F. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the bread to crumbs; add the Parmesan and butter and pulse to blend well.
Pour the pasta mixture into an appropriately-sized baking dish (9”x13” is about right, or any casserole that will accommodate it), scatter the crumbs overtop and bake for 45 minutes, until bubbly around the edges and golden on top. Serves 6.