What can be more comforting than something that is warm, filling and cheesy? Today I’m blogging about my first attempt at baked macaroni and cheese. Despite appreciating truly good and fresh food, I happen to enjoy the stuff that comes out of the blue box. But in hopes of finding a cheesy mac that is less hydrogenated and more gastronomically correct, I turned to my favorite Food Network chef, Ina Garten.
Ina’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese
1 pound elbows
1 stick butter
1 quart milk
1/2 cup all purpose flour
4 cups gruyere
2 cups cheddar
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 small tomatoes
1 1/2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
Important note #1: I really trust Ina on what kind of cheeses to use. She really knows her stuff. Unfortunately, according to her gorgeous house in the Hamptons, it seems that her cheese budget is a bit higher than mine. Because of this, I decided just to use 6 cups of cheddar because the gruyere at my market was a little too pricey.
Important note #2: I know that full fat cheese, milk and butter probably tastes amazing but that amount of fat just doesn’t work with my slightly sensitive lactose intolerant jewish stomach. I decided to use 1 quart of 2% milk and instead of real butter, I used “I can’t believe it’s not butter light.” To be honest, my mac was still incredibly ooey gooey and delicious so I don’t really miss all of those calories. My taste-testers Whitney, Danny and Anjali were even surprised when I told them about my healthy swaps.
To continue on with the recipe, Ina says to preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and then boil water and toss in your pasta. Cook the pasta according to the box, then drain. I would suggest even under-cooking the pasta a little bit since it will be baking for so long. You don’t want super mushy pasta in the end. At the same time, heat your milk in a small saucepan and make sure it doesn’t boil. In a separate and larger pot, melt the butter and add the flour. Whisk this together on low heat for a few minutes. Once the milk is warm, slowly whisk it into the flour and butter mixture. If you’re using a lower fat butter (fake butter) like I did, it might take a little longer to reach the desired milk/butter/flour consistency, but don’t fret, just whisk for a few more minutes until the mixture is smooth. Once that is all set, take the pot off the heat and add in the cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix everything around and pour into a three quart baking dish.
Once everything is in the dish, slice up some tomatoes and place them on top. Okay, you MUST do this. You might not even want to deal with the tomatoes because mac and cheese is good just on it’s own but trust me, the tomatoes add a warm, sweet aroma to the dish and it’s absolutely delicious. I only used two tomatoes but next time I will use four for sure! Finally sprinkle bread crumbs over the tops and break up a little extra butter because…why not? Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the top is browned and the cheese is bubbly. I even put the oven on broil for the last few minutes to get things really crispy on the top. Serve hot!
So I must say that my first try at baked mac and cheese was such a success! I am surprised that the healthy swaps still made a creamy dish. As I said before, I think next time I’ll add more tomatoes and perhaps if I have some more money I’ll experiment with some different sorts of cheeses. But for now, I have a massive dish of creamy macaroni and cheese with tender noodles and a perfect, filling sauce. Definitely try out this recipe. It took about an hour to make and is definitely worth it. Thanks Ina!