If you haven't ever cooked macaroni & cheese from scratch, I urge you to try it. It's easy, and the results are delectable. (I've included my recipe at the end of this post, for your convenience.) Even if you already have a Mac-n-Cheese recipe you love, here are a few ways to upgrade this classic, homespun dish:
1. Rub a cut clove of garlic around the insides of the dish you're going to use. This step alone takes the recipe up to a whole new level of deliciousness:
2. Expand your repertoire of cheeses. Usually made with mild or medium-sharp Cheddar, Mac-n-Cheese made with some other cheese--or a combo of cheeses--is divine. Try an extra-sharp Cheddar instead. Or take out some of the Cheddar and substitute in some Blue cheese, smoked Gouda or Gruyêre, or Parmigiano-Reggiano.
An extra-sharp Cheddar (top) mixed with Parmigiano-Reggiano (below) is one of my favorite combos. BTW a quick way to identify a true Parmigiano-Reggiano (only made in a certain area in Italy) is from the markings stamped into the rind:
3. Increase the crusty-chewy quotient. If you love a golden crust atop your mac-n-cheese like I do, don't pour the entire recipe into a deep dish (like a soufflé dish). Instead, portion it out into ramekins or shallow, flat individual dishes like these, below. You'll get more chewy crust per serving that way. Use a soup ladle to neatly ladle it out:
Yum, waiting to happen:
4. Finish off your mac with a delicious topping. Before popping the casserole or individual ramekins into the oven, I make a simple-but-scrumptious topper to up the yum quotient. Just stir up a little shredded cheese (like Parmigiano-Reggiano), some herbed bread crumbs, and some melted butter in a small bowl:
...and distribute a little on top of the individual portions:
5. Make a BIG batch. If you're going to cook from scratch, make your time count! Cooking up a large recipe means you can freeze individual portions and reheat them when you're too tired or stressed to cook. I freeze the ramekins before baking them, and then when they're fully frozen, I wrap each one in foil and pop several in large, zip-style freezer bags. They keep for weeks that way:
You can either cook the mac-n-cheese the same day you make it, or you can cook one you've previously frozen. No need to thaw it in the fridge first, either--so long as you're using a shallow dish like these. Just pop the frozen mac's into the oven (they may have to cook a bit longer when done straight from the freezer, obviously).
When I serve such a rich dish for an entree, I keep the rest of the dinner simple and "clean." A tossed green salad (lightly dressed) or simple steamed broccoli or green beans (hold the butter, please) makes a perfect side to this classic dish:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rub the cut garlic cloves around the inside of the serving dish or dishes you intend to use; discard cloves (or better yet, toss into your soup-stock scraps). Set prepared dish or dishes aside.