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Considering macaroni? The cheesier the better
By Elan Head

March 4, 2006

About a month ago, the New York Times food section published a story about macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and cheese is great stuff, and it's hard to take issue with the author's contention that the cheesier, the better.
But I disagreed with the scorn she heaped on white sauce, or béchamel.

This classic French sauce is basically milk thickened with flour, and it's used in a lot of homemade macaroni and cheese recipes as a binder.
There's nothing wrong with mac and cheese recipes made without white sauce; they'll be cheesier, but also a bit grainier.
If you prefer a creamier mac and cheese, then by all means use a white sauce. There's nothing to stop you from adding as much cheese as you want.

Béchamel is a snap to make, and it's great in all kinds of casseroles.
If you have a casserole recipe that calls for cream of mushroom soup, try substituting a thick white sauce; it serves the same function, but tastes much cleaner.
Use the basic formula of one tablespoon butter to one tablespoon of flour to one cup milk.

For example, for two cups of sauce, use two tablespoons each of butter and flour and two cups of hot milk.
Start by melting the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. If you like, you can sauté some minced shallot or onion in the butter at this point, too.
Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for two to three minutes. The object here is for the flour to lose its raw taste, but it shouldn't turn brown.

If you're making macaroni and cheese, consider stirring in a teaspoon of paprika, too.
Now whisk in the hot milk and stir pretty much constantly until the sauce thickens--about five minutes. Then continue stirring for another three or four minutes. Remove from heat and stir in salt to taste. For each cup of milk, you'll need one quarter to one half teaspoon of salt.
If you're making macaroni and cheese, make two cups of white sauce while you're heating the water for a pound of pasta.
For a traditional dish, you'll want to use elbow pasta. But you can make "macaroni" and cheese using any small, substantial pasta shape, like penne.

Cook your pound of pasta in boiling, salted water until it's slightly underdone, then drain it.
Mix it with the white sauce and three cups of grated cheddar cheese, then transfer this mixture to a buttered gratin dish. Dust the top with more paprika.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, until the macaroni is crusty on top but still moist within. Serve hot.
You can jazz up this basic recipe by using different kinds of cheese, or a mixture of cheeses.

You can also top the dish with bread crumbs before it goes into the oven, although I prefer mine unadorned.
Finally, if you don't feel like messing with macaroni and cheese at all--white-sauce-based or otherwise--you can get outstanding mac and cheese at Soul in the Hole, 601 N. Arizona Ave., Chandler.

I'm pretty sure that owner Toni Lopez's recipe is nothing like mine.
But, hey, there's room for more than one mac and cheese recipe in this world, anyway.





























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