Yes—I too ate the boxed version of macaroni and cheese in college. I would add smokies or broccoli to give it a little color and flavor (my other main indulgence was making Big Gulp size lattes on the $30 Krups espresso machine, back in the day we actually thought it was ‘expresso’). For the record, I would read Gourmet and Bon Apetit magazines while eating said boxed macaroni and cheese.
Collegiate foodisms behind, I now happily ‘gulp’ coffee from talented baristas at Zoka, Fuel and Vivace—and make macaroni from scratch. Though I changed it a bit, the original recipe is from Pasta & Co— one of my favorite gourmet take-out shops in Seattle. (I am secretly proud that my kids don’t like boxed macaroni, though perhaps I have robbed them of classic feel-good, widely-popular camaraderie over boxed mac ‘n’ cheese). Eh—Spaghettios takes care of that.
Don’t cringe—it isn’t too much work: most importantly, you can double the recipe and freeze a whole bunch for later (I use small, aluminum mini loaf pans to serve 1-2). Then all you have to do is whip it from freezer to oven and dinner is served! When you aren’t sure about what to serve guests, or are wary of their diverse palates and dietary needs, this dish is a very safe choice. All you need to do to make it a special meal is add some special sides and salads or sausages, or maybe some olives and bruschetta. Last time I served this meal for guests (some of whom were vegetarian), I rounded out the flavors with a Pesto & Spinach Salad and Roasted Roma Tomatoes.
Macaroni & Cheese
12 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
12 oz mozzarella cheese
3 cups whole milk (I use whole)
7 T butter
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1-2 tsp Tabasco or other hot sauce
pinch white pepper
1 pound dried rigatoni
3/4 tsp paprika or chili powder to sprinkle on top
2/3 cup milk
Grate cheeses, mix together in bowl and set aside. Boil water and cook pasta about 5 minutes (it will cook more later in oven), drain and set aside. Heat 3 c. milk in saucepan until nearly boiling, off the heat. In huge skillet or saucepan cook butter (medium) until foam subsides, add flour and stir over medium low heat for 2-3 minutes. Stir in hot milk, raise heat to medium high and stir to thicken, 5 minutes. Whisk in Parmesan, Tabasco and white pepper. Add pasta, stir to cover.
Oven at 375, fill bottom of 9×13 pan with half the pasta mix. Sprinkle half the cheese over top; repeat. Sprinkle top with paprika. (You may freeze portions at this point). Pour 3/4 cup milk over dish; bake for 1 hour. If frozen add 20 minutes. Serves 8-10.
Note: make some and freeze some, this dish is very forgiving on the proportions. Feel free to use different size baking dishes. (And don’t forget to have your kids assemble this one! They love making layers and seeing quick results!).