Charlotte’s Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb pasta – elbow macaroni, campanelle, cellentani, or other interesting shape that will hold sauce
1 lb extra sharp cheddar cheese
3 TBS flour (that’s tablespoon. Teaspoons are abbreviated tsp, but you knew that, right?)
3 TBS butter3 cups milk
Salt and pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
(See options below for additional spicing)
Bring pasta water to a boil in a large pot. Add a TBS salt to the water. Grate the cheese. Preheat the oven on Broil and set the rack 3 inches below the burner. Find a baking dish large enough to hold the mac n cheese and spray it with a little Pam.
Make the sauce: melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When it is melted and bubbling, add the flour and stir with a heatproof spatula until it is mixed in and lump-free. Smell it as it cooks and when the smell goes from raw flour to a bread-y smell, it is ready. It should be a little golden, but not brown. Add about a half-cup of the milk and stir it in quickly to mix it. Add some more milk, stirring to keep lumps from forming. If they do, mash them against the side of the pot. Add the rest of the milk and stir it in. Let the sauce just start to bubble, then turn it down and let it cook for 10 minutes or so. Stire it often and scrape the bottom of the pot with the spatula to keep it from sticking. Add the nutmeg and salt to taste. Start with a 1/4 tsp of salt and add it in bits until it tastes right.
Drain the pasta in a colander, but don’t rinse it off. Put about a quarter of it back in the big pot.
Pick up the cheese in pinches and add it to the sauce, stirring to mix in each pinch before you add more. When it is all melted and smooth, add it to the pasta in the big pot, using the spatula to scrape the sauce out of the pot.
Add some of the cooked pasta and mix it in. Keep adding pasta and mixing until the dish is as goopy as you like. You may not use all the pasta. On the other hand, if you’ve been nibbling on the cooked pasta as you go, you may wish you had a little more. No matter. Pour it carefully into the baking dish.
Smooth the top and put the baking dish under the broiler for 15 minutes until the top is nice and crusty. Take it out of the oven, let it sit for five or ten minutes, scoop and serve.
For a spicier cheese sauce, you can add 1/4 to 1 tsp powdered mustard and/or a few shakes of hot sauce while you are making the white sauce. If you like spicy food, add a tsp or more of sambal olek, Sriracha, or even hot pepper.
White pepper looks better than black pepper since it disappears into the sauce.
You can top the mac n cheese with Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs or wheat germ (Sarah’s trick for making it healthier) before you put it under the broiler to give it a little crust.
You can add different cheeses to the sauce: Parmesan, asiago, pepperjack, etc. for a different flavor. Taste the cheese first to see whether you like it or not.