Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese


Makes 6 servings

Choose a medium-sized pasta with grooves, twists and/or curves that will hold a maximum of the cheese sauce. Varieties such as macaroni, gemelli, radiatore, rotini, shells or fusilli are ideal. You can skip the onion/bay leaf/peppercorn infusion for the béchamel sauce to save time; it adds a subtle layer of savory flavor to the dish.

2 ½ c (9 ounces) dry pasta
2 ½ c whole milk
1 slice onion
1 bay leaf
10 whole black peppercorns
4 T unsalted butter
¼ c all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 ½ cups)
3 oz fontina cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
3 oz Emmenthal, Gruyère or similar Swiss-type cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
½ c fresh bread crumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Stir in the pasta and boil until it is about half-cooked, tender on the surface with a distinct bite still in the center, about 5 minutes. Drain well, rinse with cold water and set aside, tossing from time to time as it cools to avoid sticking.

3. Put the milk in a small saucepan with the onion slice, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring just to a low boil over medium heat, then take the pan from the heat and let sit to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes. (If skipping the aromatics, simply warm the milk.)

4. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until it foams up and has a very slight toasty smell (it should not brown), 1 to 2 minutes. Strain the warm milk into the pan and whisk to blend. Continue to cook the sauce, whisking often, until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and gradually whisk in the cheeses until fully melted. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper, then add the pasta and stir to fully coat all the pasta with the cheese sauce.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish and sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly over. Set the dish on the oven rack and lay a piece of foil on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake until the macaroni and cheese is bubbling hot and the top is nicely browned, about 40 minutes. Let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

Cynthia Nims is a food and travel writer based in Seattle. She is the co-author, most recently, of “Rover's Cookbook.”

© 2006 MSNBC Interactive
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15292665/page/2/

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