Monday, May 9, 2011

Cooking from your Pantry – Real Macaroni and Cheese

You’ve just gotten in the door from work, and you’re starving. You look in to your sad, empty refrigerator and realize you desperately need to pick up some groceries. But what’s that?  You have cheese, milk and butter?  Some flour and short pasta too?  Even a stale piece of bread to make bread crumbs?  Never fear and stop reaching for that take out menu! You have in your empty pantry the very ingredients you need to make a DELICIOUS dinner, one that you’ll find yourself craving, even when your fridge and pantry are full. You’re going to make yourself some delightful macaroni and cheese!

Now, not only are you saving money by using what you have in your kitchen and not ordering in; you’re also eating vegetarian, which in and of itself can also save you money as protein is usually the most expensive part of any meal. The best thing about this dish, for you carnivores out there, is that it is so rich and satisfying that you probably won’t even realize there isn’t any meat on your plate.

I think this is the first dish that I learned to make from scratch, when I was probably 11 or 12. Since then, I’ve made it so many times I no longer need to look at the recipe.  Its simple, its easy, its tasty, it makes wonderful leftovers, it freezes well, and its inexpensive to make. What more could you ask for in a recipe?

Macaroni and Cheese – from Scratch
3c. your choice of short pasta (macaroni, penne, fusili, gemeli, whatevery you have)
2c. grated cheddar cheese, or whatever you have in your fridge
2c. milk
3tbsp. margarine or butter
3tbsp. white, all purpose flour
½ c. bread crumbs (take that stale piece of bread and buzz it up in your food processor or blender) OPTIONAL

  • Preheat your oven to 400F.
  • Put a pot with lots of water on to boil to cook your pasta.
  • Once you’ve got your pasta in cooking heat a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the butter, and melt it down being careful not to let it burn.
  • Once the butter is melted, whisk or stir in your flour until a paste forms. Let this cook for a minute or two. This is a roux, and will thicken your sauce.
  • Slowly whisk in the milk. Be sure to keep the sauce moving so the milk doesn’t burn. This should thicken up. If it doesn’t, add a little more flour.
  • Once the sauce has thickened a bit, add 2 c. of the grated cheese and stir until melted through. Remove from the heat.
  • When the pasta is done cooking, drain it and mix it in with the completed cheese sauce. Mix it well, you want it to get into all of the nooks and crannies of your pasta. Trust me.
  • Pour this into a 9x13” casserole and top with remaining cheese and bread crumbs if you wish.
  • Bake until sizzling, and cheese on top is melted. About 20 minutes.
  • This can easily be prepared ahead and stored in the fridge, or even frozen. Just wrap it up before you bake it, and once you're ready to have it add between 10-20 minutes of baking time.
Notes on Cheese Choice:
Use up whatever you have in your fridge. The taste will vary depending on what you use, but I find that my most successful Macaroni’s are often those for which I use a mix of odds and ends of cheese. The last one I made was with a mix of gouda, mozzarella and old cheddar and it was great! I would probably stay away from types like feta because they don’t melt well. If you only have a block of plain old cheddar, well that’s really good too.

Notes on Pasta:
My favourite pasta to use for this is fusili. There is something about the way the cheese sauce gets into all of the crevices of the pasta that I find really pleasing. Really, any short pasta will work. A short pasta is just that, a short cut pasta that often has a hole in it, or rough edges to catch sauce. These include macaroni elbows, penne, ziti, fusili, rotini, gemelli, cavatapi, etc. My mom usually uses traditional elbows. Use what you have or what you prefer. It doesn’t affect the taste. The only type I wouldn't use is shells, because they all stick together and I don't like them.

This is a tasty yet inexpensive way to feed a crowd.   Always buy your pasta on sale, whether you use whole wheat, or normal, watch the flyers and every other week or so, one or the other is on sale. This past week I picked up a package of macaroni for only $1.  Bricks of cheese also are often on sale, usually once or twice a month Kraft or Cracker Barrell will be on sale for $5.  You only use ½ a brick for a macaroni, and would only use about ½ the bag of macaroni. If you get these key items on sale, then a large pan of macaroni will only run you between $5 and $7 and it can easily feed about 6 people, or even 8 if you’re serving a salad too. Or, it will feed 2 for one dinner, and two to three week-day lunches.