The weather here in Berkeley has been very unseasonable of late. The last few weeks have been a string of one bright, sunny, hot day after another. But before Indian summer began, we did have a brief spate of fall-like weather with crisp, windy days and very chilly nights.
It was during this "cold" spell that I got the urge to make mac and cheese. Oddly enough, I had never made real mac and cheese before. I checked out several recipes online and consulted a few cookbooks before I ended up settling on this classic recipe from the Joy of Cooking.
The result was delicious -- creamy, melty pasta with a hint of sweetness from the onions topped with crispy browned fresh breadcrumbs. This classic comfort food is also quite addictive -- my husband and I both went back to the stove for seconds and thirds and so on...
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 4-6 as a main dish
* 2 cups (8 oz) macaroni (elbow mac is the classic but you can use whatever you like)
* 2 1/4 cups grated sharp cheddar or Colby cheese
* 2 tbsps butter (plus an additional tbsp for the breadcrumbs)
* 2 tbsps all-purpose flour
* 2 cups milk
* 1/2 large onion, minced
* 1 bay leaf
* 1/4 tsp sweet paprika
* Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
* 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 1 1/2 quart deep baking dish.
2. Bring 6 cups water to a boil and then add the macaroni. While the macaroni is cooking, grate the cheese. Cook the pasta until al dente then drain and move to a bowl or put back in pot.
3. Melt the 2 tbsps butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat then whisk in the flour and cooking, whisking, for three minutes.
4. Gradually whisk in the milk then stir in the onion and add the bay leaf and paprika. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and stir in 2/3 of the cheese then season with the salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add the macaroni and stir to combine. Pour half the mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle it with half of the remaining cheese. Add the rest of the macaroni mixture and top with the rest of the cheese.
6. Melt 1 tbsp butter in a small skilet and add the breadcrumbs. Toss to coat and cook for 30-60 seconds. Sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs over the top of the macaroni in the baking dish and bake until the breadcrumbs are lightly browned, about 30-35 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
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