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Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese Categories: Import
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(from Clay Keller)
    1 lb  dried pasta
    3 Tbsp  butter
    3 Tbsp  flour
    1/2  onion, minced, (or shallots)
    2 1/2 c.  milk, hot
      peppercorns
      thyme, ground
    1  bay leaf, tiny
      salt
      nutmeg, grated or ground

Heat a pot of salted water to cook 1 lb dried pasta. Melt butter and sauté the onions for a few minutes. Best not to brown them. Add the flour and stir the roux for several minutes. Whisk in the milk slowly. The sauce will start to thicken. Add pepper, thyme, bay leaf, salt, and nutmeg. Let it cook slowly for about 10?15 minutes, or more, stirring every once in a while. Never get the sauce bubbling, no more than a simmer.

When the pasta water is ready, cook the pasta according to the directions. You could cook it a bit less because of the later baking. Drain.

Heat oven to 350F.

The cheese...The heart of the dish, but it's difficult to give hard and fast directions. You should use at least several different kinds because of the different tastes and qualities they add to the dish as well as the aura that will grow over the years around the making of the dish ("Wow, they used 7 different cheeses!") Early on I used more commercial kinds of cheeses from Kraft( but never Velveeta or Cheezwiz!) but now I stick with real cheeses like domestic artisanal ones and good imports. It's nice to have an orange cheddar for the color. Others that I often use are parmesan, gruyere, maybe a raclette, an aged mahon, other cheddars. I don't think I've used mozzarella (thinkig it would be too stringy) and definitely never a blue (it's be too strong in the blend, and you are looking for some sort of harmonious blending of tastes). Experiment, plus use leftover bits that might be in the fridge (an easy way to increase the magical number).

No hard and fast rules on the amounts of cheese either, thought I'd err on the side of more rather than less. You'll need a good amount of your orange ones for the color. If the tastes of one are strong, add small amounts, etc. The sauce will be the main conveyor of the cheese part of the dish (though there will be some on the top for the crust). Add your cheese while your pasta is cooking. Smaller chunks melt faster than large ones. No real need to shred it. Let the sauce melt the cheese.

Butter a large casserole dish. Pour in the drained pasta. Pour the cheese sauce (without bay leaf) over the pasta and mix. Shred some cheese on the top, more if your family likes such a crust, less if they don't. I tend to use a mixture of an orange cheddar and parmesan. Sprinkle on some wheat germ (for a little healthiness) and paprika (to enhance the reddy-orange color of the crust). Bake for about 20?30 minutes, making sure the top is well browned.

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