Basic Mac ‘n Cheese

Scrumptious mac ‘n cheese

Recently I made some classic mac ‘n cheese and posted a pic on Facebook. A discussion ensued that included a dear friend in the UK who apparently was not a fan. What? “You’d love mine!” I assured her. This led to various comments and my ultimately, as I am wont to do, googling mac ‘n cheese, where I discovered it’s regarded as having come from England! Well, this piqued further interest. Like, why the Southern roots in America? Enter Thomas Jefferson!

Having recently read The Hemingses of Monticello, I had learned, among many other fascinating things, that Jefferson was a foodie. When Congress sent Jefferson to Paris in 1784, he took one of his trusted servants and arranged for him to be tutored by a well known and respected chef to ensure he would have French cuisine back in Monticello. Jefferson at some point discovered macaroni and arranged to have a “macaroni machine” shipped to Monticello and later served macaroni to his guests, thus popularizing it in the South. There even survives a recipe for macaroni in Jefferson’s own hand! (Note he referred to all pasta as “maccaroni”.)

Thomas Jefferson’s recipe for macaroni
6 eggs. yolks & whites.
2 wine glasses of milk
2 lb of flour
a little salt
work them together without water, and very well.
roll it then with a roller to a paper thickness
cut it into small peices [sic] which roll again with the hand into long slips, & then cut them to a proper length.
put them into warm water a quarter of an hour.
drain them.
dress them as maccaroni [sic]
but if they are intended for soups they are to be put in the soup & not into warm water

Having learned this story I was inspired to post my recipe for mac ‘n cheese, partially hoping my friend in England, who is a whiz in the kitchen, will give it a try. 😉

This recipe evolved out of a recipe in The Joy of Cooking, which was fine as a starting point, but I found cumbersomely written, as well as not fully in keeping with my own preferences, so it’s tweaked from both those perspectives. I took lots of pictures in case you learn visually as I do.

Basic Mac ‘n Cheese

1. Make 1 1/2 C. bread crumbs.

2. Toss the bread crumbs in butter goodness.

3. Sauté 1/2 large onion, almost to the point of carmelization.

4. Throw the onion into your Cuisinart briefly.

5. Grate a block of sharp cheddar cheese.

6. Prepare 2 C. macaroni. I rarely use actual traditional macaroni. I prefer penne rigate or, even better, torchiette. Add the pasta to boiling water, which has been lightly salted. Do not add oil to the water. Cook al dente. Drain.

7. Simultaneously, melt 3 T. butter in a good sized saucepan, preferably stainless steel. Add 3 T. unbleached white flour. Stir to near browning. Add 2 C. whole milk, a bay leaf and a bit of paprika. Stir constantly over medium heat until it thickens. WATCH this carefully. You do not want this to stick to the bottom! Stir in the onion. Remove from heat.

8. Add 2/3 of the grated cheese to this mixture. Season to taste.

9. Add the pasta to this mixture.

10. Pour one half of the pasta/cheese/sauce mixture into a buttered casserole dish.

11. Sprinkle 1/2 of the remaining grated cheese over this.

12. Add the remaining pasta to the casserole dish.

13. Top with the remaining cheese and then top with the bread crumbs.

14. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Allow to cool for ten minutes before serving so it keeps it’s form.

And that’s how I do it! I know this dish has reached gourmet status in some realms. Please do share what your variations are. I’d love to know what your favorite tricks are! Meanwhile, you have the basics on classic comfort food with a very rich history! Enjoy!

Love and kitchen blessings!
Kathryn xoxo

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10 Responses to “Basic Mac ‘n Cheese”

  1. You use Basically my recipe, I am an old Joy of Cooking devote. If I have the time, I start with three pounds of cooked macaroni, using six cups of milk because I’m making two big pans, one for us and one for Adam’s house. I’ll use a mix of cheeses but the sharper the Chedder, the better. I add hot sauce, tobasco or others. If it’s going to be a main meal, I’ll throw in bags of frozen mixed vegetables and maybe browned ground beef or cut up smoked sausages. If I’m in a huge rush, I do the unboiled pasta route, 4 cups whole milk, 1cup heavy whipping cream with the grated cheese and 1/2 cup melted butter for each pound of pasta. Mix it all up, make sure the pasta is covered and make sure the pan is covered, a covered casserole works well or foil on a rectangular pan. It makes a different texture but the kids like it just fine. You can throw in vegetables, meat, whatever. It takes longer to cook but it can be baking away while I make a couple of soups, stew, chili, etc. and it becomes half the dinners for the week.
    We did the quick version last Saturday and then I made a big pot of butternut squash and Granny Smith Apple soup, using terrigon and red onions, and a big pot of cream of mushroom soup. We had several kinds of mushrooms.
    Need I say we have been snowed in twice since last Friday and it’s been wind chill well below zero most of it. We finally got out today.

  2. Hi, Julie! Thanks for elaborating on other possibilities. Good to know you can “beef it up”! This is perfect food for winter, especially where you live! Kathryn xoxo

  3. Fascinating about Jefferson being a foodie. And, that mac and cheese is a fantastic recipe. The caramelized onions give it something extra. Truffle oil is another great addition to the dish. Yum!

  4. Love that you LOVE mac and cheese. Such a comfort food Kathryn. I believe I’ve had a taste – maybe it was Whole Foods- of one that used 3 different cheeses, including blue cheese. It was subtle and an excellent richness exploded on my taste buds. Thank you for your inspiration this chilly, foggy morning. (Enjoyed the history of this popular food too!)

  5. Hi, Antonia! I’d heard that some folks are using truffle oil! I must try! Thanks! Love, Mom xoxo

  6. Thanks, Carol! I’ve tried other cheeses and always come back to sharp cheddar, but I had not yet tried blue cheese! I’m looking forward to trying some new things, so thanks for that suggestion! Kathryn xoxo

  7. I am a big fan of mac & cheese. I also use Betty Crocker”s receipe “Ring of Plenty” which is similar but uses parsley, minced onion and chopped pimiento, baked in a ring mold and then the center filled with whatever…creamed seafood, chicken or vegets. Now that I am reminded, I shall have to make some. Thanks.

  8. Good morning, Alice! This is an interesting suggestion and I will have to look this up! This is in keeping with what Julie mentioned, adding veggies or meat for variation. Thank you! Kathryn xoxo

  9. Good morning Kathryn. I’ve enjoyed reading your Mac ‘n Cheese recipe. I’ve used one for years that I found in a Mac magazine. It calls for 3 cheeses: cheddar, asiago, and parmesan for the top. It also has chopped granny smith apple in it, which goes well with the cheddar.
    It is called Apple Mac, of course! Always a hit at parties!

  10. Hi, Marybeth, and welcome! I love that there are so many variations of Mac ‘n Cheese! Glad you found one that you love! Kathryn xoxo

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