Yes, I realize that mac & cheese comes in variety of boxes and/or bags. But — as is the case with roasted peppers — the homemade version is just better, period. Unlike roasting peppers, however, making your own mac & cheese is easy, taking only maybe 5–10 minutes more than the box method. Here’s my family’s take on a home-ec recipe (remember home-ec?) from the 70s, that, with a few modifications, has stood the test of time. The “secret ingredient,” tomato paste, adds color and a tangy flavor that kids will love, assuming there’s any left after the grown-ups have their way with this tasty dish.
1 Lb elbow pasta
2 T unsalted butter, plus 1 T more, diced and set aside
3 T white or durum flour
1/2 C milk (2% or more milk fat)
1 T tomato paste
8oz cheddar cheese, cut into a dozen or so cubes
1 T breadcrumbs
Bring a pot of water to a boil (for the pasta) and preheat the oven to 325°
In the meantime, prepare a roux by melting 2 T of the butter over low heat in a saucepan, adding the flour and whisking vigorously to get the lumps out. When the roux begins to turn light brown and get fragrant, start adding the milk slowly, continuing to whisk until you’ve added all of it.
The end result should be a smooth, creamy, pourable sauce with no lumps. If it’s too thick, add more milk. If it’s too thin, continue simmering over low heat and whisking constantly until it reduces to a good thickness.
When you’re happy with the sauce’s consistency, add the tomato paste and cheese cubes and continue to cook over medium-low heat until the cheese is melted, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the boiling water, following the package directions, but leaving it slightly al dente (because it will continue to cook in the oven). When finished, drain (but do not rinse!) and add to a casserole dish.
When all the cheese cubes have melted, pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and stir to coat.
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and dab with the remaining butter cubes.
Bake at 325° until the cheese sauce bubbles, around 10-15 minutes.
Allow to cool for five minutes and enjoy. Be sure to save some for the kids.