Oh, the cold breezes sweep in, the rain last night has already crusted over into ice and there’s apparently snow on the way (such is Winter life in Maine). It’s grey and the trees are bare, hints of greenery still pretend they have a chance – hopefully they are storing up as much as they can into their sleepy roots in hopes of a cozy hibernation. If it weren’t for a good solid freeze here we wouldn’t have all the things we love, like lilacs, and apples, maple syrup, lupines, coneflowers, milkweed and then all their attractors and supplements. Our seas would be affected, too, and our smelts, Maine shrimp, and even the ever popular lobster would move on to more appropriate watery pastures -it’s a dead giveaway that I am from away since I prefer the Chesapeake Blue Crab to lobster any day.
Don’t get me wrong, I like lobster but it’s not the end-all-be-all that some make it to be, it’s a nice treat every now and again. And from away – like that is a bad thing – if there weren’t people to move around this beautiful planet, how could we inject continuity of the species, or new industry and *gasp* new ideas, let alone mix up the gene pool a bit. Where I am from, we call the same folk flatlanders, which is pretty much what some New Englanders would call us, even though I’m from the mid-Appalachians and the culture is the same as here in Maine, and Josh is from Vermont – go figure. There is no sense to paper borders to me, no sense at all. It’s a shame to blame a fear of change on people instead of the proper and improper use of direct democracy (to which New England holds dear).
Anyway – comfort food is in order when the cold winds blow. And no time better than this damn year (2020 may be over but as another ‘paper border’, we still have sensitive situations that will continue) to find some comfort. With that said, this is not a fancy Macaroni and Cheese dish – but it is a cheesy cozy lowbrow one. It is also not our lovely friend Sophia’s awesome Smack n Cheese which has some sort of magickal faerie dust in it and she uses Cavatappi pasta (corkscrew shaped – to which I just spent 20 minutes on the interwebs trying to find the name for -ha!) which is really quite brilliant because they capture and hold the cheesey goodness that much better.
This has lots of preference options – add veggies like broccoli or cauliflower (parboiled) or herbs (like sage, thyme, or rosemary), bacon, sausage or shredded chicken, and the cheese you like best – cheddar, jack, American (and you can even tailor spices to enhance your cheese, like nutmeg for cheddar, green chili or some ancho with the jack, etc). You can even just make the noodles and roux and eat straight away like an ooey-gooey warm bowl of love or bake into a full casserole. And if you want to make it into a super fancy dish, I won’t judge you if you put lobster in it.
Rock Bottom Mac & Cheese
1 pound dry pasta of choice (I do Elbows but I’m not adverse to mini shells or Orecchiette or Fusilli), cooked per package instructions, al dente
3 Tbsp Butter plus 2 Tbsp to top a casserole if desired
1/4-1/3 cup All-purpose Flour
3 cups Milk
1-2 cups Shredded Cheese (up to you how much cheese you like!)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 cup Breadcrumbs (optional)
Make a Roux: [If making a full casserole, preheat oven to 350 degrees]. In a heavy bottom Medium pot, melt 3 Tbsp Butter on Medium heat. When melted add 1/4 cup AP Flour and stir until clumpy and dry. Add Milk 1/2 cup at a time, whisk until becomes uniform. Continue adding Milk 1/2 cup at a time until consistency is thick (you are making a thick gravy). Add shredded Cheese a handful at a time, stirring into sauce until thick and still creamy.
Then add cooked pasta: warm together for a few minutes if you are eating immediately or stir in any additions (like spices, herbs, meats, veg), Salt & Pepper to taste, and pour into ovenproof casserole dish (I use a 9×13). Liberally sprinkle on Breadcrumbs, and cut remaining Butter into pats, placing randomly over crumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees, for 20-30 minutes until Breadcrumbs are golden brown (if you are using a clear casserole dish you may also see the pasta and cheese getting golden). Then be gentle with yourself because it is so tempting to eat straight away but it is super hot!! Enjoy ;).