Baked Mac and Cheese
Mac n cheese oh how I love thee. I have to admit, I went through a funk when I couldn’t bring myself to eat it anymore. I was sick of it. How on earth could someone get sick of warm cheesey goodness? Maybe an alien had taken over my body. I’ve been using that excuse for a lot of things lately.
This is a perfect cold rainy day dish that requires minimal effort. I’ve gone through several phases in making this, changing the toppings, keeping it simple or adding a new ingredient. There are tons of possibilities. You can try out different cheeses, use one or several. Try out different toppings or none at all. Toss in some sausage, veggies, bacon or all of it.
For years I made this topped off with crushed plain chips but now I use plain bread crumbs. Either is fine or you can go without. Until sometime over this last year, I always made this as a straight mac n cheese. No extra ingredients. One day Josh asked for sausage pieces thrown in. I thought, okay that’s weird but whatever. I didn’t want to chance my serving being ruined so I cooked up some breakfast sausage and put it one area of the dish. Honestly, it wasn’t bad at all but not something I’d do all the time. Then I got it in my head last Fall that I must try bacon mac n cheese. Oooh so good, but again, not something I’d do all the time. If you love bacon, do it. Try it at least once but remember that you can never go wrong with a basic mac n cheese.
Baked Mac and Cheese
2 1/2 - 3 cups pasta
3 1/2 - 4 cups sharp cheddar cheese (or whichever you prefer)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 - 1 tsp black pepper (depending on how much pepper you like)
Preheat oven to 350. Shred your cheese and set aside. If you don't have the means to shred, you can cut up blocks of cheese into small chunks with a knife or you can go the super easy route and by preshredded cheese. Use that as a last resort as your options for cheese variety are then greatly limited.
Choose your pasta, I usually use a mix of penne and mezze penne. Last time I decided I wanted to use pipette. There is just something strangely cute about it. You don't need to use a special kind of pasta but something with a hole in the middle works great so a bit of cheese gets stuck in each piece. Cook it up according to the box directions, I consistently cook it for about 11 minutes.
While your pasta cooks, melt your butter in a double boiler. Toss in the flour and combine. Add about half of your milk, stir. Toss in a handful of cheese, stir well. It will take a bit to melt, be patient but continue to stir. Add in the rest of your milk, stir again. Toss in the remainder of your cheese. Stir until you get a nice and smooth creamy texture. Add salt and pepper, stir again. Reduce your heat to low, but remember to stir occasionally as your cheese will get a coating on top if you neglect it too long.
If you are adding extra ingredients: lighter ingredients, such as bacon or small veggies, add into your cheese mixture now. If you are adding heavier items such as sausage, hold off and mix it in during the next step.
Prepare your baking dish, spray with oil. I usually use a 1 1/2qt dish. Fill your dish up half way with pasta and all of your cheese. Mix pasta and cheese well. *Add in sausage now, if doing so. Add more pasta as needed. You may not use up all of the cooked pasta. Eyeball what looks like a good pasta to cheese ratio. You dont want it super cheesey, well maybe you do. But you definitely don't want too much pasta because that will greatly reduce the amount of cheese per piece.
Top off your mac n cheese with extra shredded cheese, crushed chips or bread crumbs. Cook for about 30-35 minutes.
Yes, do dive in practically immediately. This is best eaten when very warm.