Great American Macaroni & Cheese

by Millie Bentley

Greetings! We are in the mood for comfort food and I have just the recipe for the best of comfort food – macaroni and cheese. A while back, a friend named Ken Privratsky sent me a wonderful cookbook, “Pasta & Co. by Request”, authored by Marcella Rosene. The book contains “coveted recipes from Seattle’s leading take-out food shop” (owned by Marcella and her husband).

According to Ken, “All the recipes are good, but the macaroni and cheese is the very best I’ve ever tasted!” And he’s absolutely right. Before we print the recipe, I want to tell you some of the author’s pointers/comments. 1. Even though the recipe calls for a hefty amount of Tabasco sauce and chili powder, it is not a fiery dish … (they) enhance the Cheddar flavor. 2. The choice of pasta is very specific: rigatoni, ribbed, about 1 inch long, fresh if possible. You may substitute dried rigatoni, but do not substitute a smooth tube such as penne, ziti, or elbow macaroni. 3. The dish can be prepared a day or two ahead of baking (refrigerated) or frozen and baked immediately before serving. Without further ado, here’s:

THE GREAT AMERICAN MACARONI AND CHEESE

1 pound sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

1 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

7 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup flour

½ cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese

¼ cup finely grated fresh Romano cheese

2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

1/3 teaspoons white pepper

1 1/3 pounds fresh rigatoni (or about 1 pound dried)

¾ teaspoon chili powder or hot paprika, to top

¾ cup milk (whole, 2% or 1%)

Combine grated Cheddar and mozzarella and set aside. In a small saucepan, heat milk until near boiling. Turn off heat. Melt butter in a heavy pan large enough to hold the pasta after it’s cooked. (It will take at least 14-inch sauté pan or a large casserole that can take direct heat.)

When foam from butter recedes, remove from heat, add flour and mix well. Return to medium-low heat and, stirring occasionally, simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to cook, but not brown the flour. Gradually stir in hot milk. Raise heat to medium-high and continue stirring until mixture is smooth and thick – about 5 minutes. Add Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Whisk until smooth. Add Tabasco and white pepper and blend.

Cook rigatoni in boiling salted water about 4 minutes, a bit longer if dried pasta is used. It will be underdone, al dente, but will finish cooking during the baking. Thoroughly drain the rigatoni and fold it into the béchamel. If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 375˚F. Layer one-half of the rigatoni mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top with one half of the cheese mixture. Repeat layers with remaining pasta and cheeses. Top with chili powder sprinkled evenly over the top.

If not baking immediately, cover top tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze. When ready to bake, drizzle the ¾ cup milk over the top. Bake for approximately one hour. If frozen, add at least 20 minutes to the baking time. The dish should be rusty brown on top. Should it appear to be browning too fast, cover with foil part of the baking time. Be sure to test for doneness in the very center of the dish. Serves 8 to 10. Um – mm!

This is another recipe which is so delicious it falls under my “Good enough to make a grown man cry” category. The flip side is that it’s loaded with fat and the wrong kind of carbohydrates. What’s a body to do? I say indulge in something like this once in a blue moon, but don’t have it every other day for breakfast.

Well dear Friends, until next time, vaya con Dios.

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