This updated version of the ultimate American comfort food gets its exquisite flavor from a touch of smoked cheese. If you have any finicky eaters who want a more traditional approach, use all cheddar cheese. It will still be delicious, just not as poetic.
2 slices bread
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached flour
2 cups whole or low-fat milk
1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
Dash cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup grated smoked Gouda cheese
8 ounces (2 cups) elbow macaroni
1. Bring a large quantity of water to a boil in a stockpot.
2. Tear the bread into pieces and place in a food processor or blender to make bread crumbs. Pour the crumbs into a bowl and drizzle with the oil. Rub the oil into the crumbs with your fingertips to moisten them evenly.
3. To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk until it blends with the butter. Cook this roux for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk, mustard, cayenne, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking continuously. Lower the heat and simmer the sauce about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheddar and smoked cheeses. (The sauce can be made up to 4 hours in advance. Reheat gently until warm before mixing it with the macaroni.)
4. Drop the macaroni into the boiling water. Cook until al dente, about 7 minutes. Do not overcook it; it will cook more when it is baked. Drain thoroughly in a colander. (Toss with a bit of oil if you aren't going to bake the casserole immediately.)
5. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
6. Spoon the macaroni into a shallow 2 to 2-1/2 quart casserole. Pour on the sauce and toss well. Sprinkle on the bread crumbs.
7. Bake 15 minutes, or just until the sauce is sizzling and the crumbs begin to brown.
The macaroni and sauce can be prepared in advance, but they should not be combined until baking time.
The white sauce can boil a few seconds, but once the cheese has been added, the sauce must not boil or else it will curdle. The same situation applies to baking; the casserole should bake only until it is hot and no more.
This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled to feed a crowd.
300 Essential Recipes for Every Course and Every Meal
By Jeanne Lemlin
HarperCollins, May 2001
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created October 2001
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