Back to School Macaroni and Cheese
Do you want your child to be the most popular kid in the lunch room? Try this macaroni and cheese recipe. I flavored the béchamel sauce with roasted red bell pepper, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes and of course a variety of cheeses. The color turns out more vibrant and the texture is perfect with both gooey and stringy cheese mixed together.
I packed the mac and cheese in a bento-style thermos lunch jar so the dish would remain warm until lunch time. My little 6-year-old sis-in-law has been going to school for less than a week but she's already made a lot of friends. When she came home, I found an empty box. She told me her lunch box is a great conversation starter!
Yields: 8 ramekins1 (16-ounce) package elbow pasta, cooked
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 shallot, finely chopped
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
4-½ cups milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
½ teaspoon white pepper, freshly ground
½ cup Asiago cheese, freshly grated
½ cup sharp yellow Cheddar cheese, freshly grated
½ cup Fontina cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons red pesto
½ cup mozzarella cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, + extra when serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
For the elbow pasta: Cook according to package instructions. When the pasta is cooked (cooked inside and out but still in shape and firm), reserve about 1/3 cup to ½ cup of pasta water and drain the pasta (do NOT rinse) into a large colander. Season with a little salt.
For the béchamel sauce:
In a saucepan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter over medium-low; you don't want the butter to burn. Bring the heat back up to medium-high (the butter should be hot and golden) and add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 3 minutes. The flour should absorb the butter instantly and form a paste. Stir well until incorporated and add the milk in 3 stages. Increase the heat while constantly stirring for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat off. Add the cheeses (except Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of mozzarella cheese) and the red pesto sauce. Mix well. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Let the sauce rest until it's time to assemble the dish.
In a large non-stick pan, heat some olive oil. Add the garlic and shallot and cook until golden and fragrant. Add the cooked pasta and toss for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the béchamel sauce. Mix until the pasta is well coated.
Grease 8 small ramekin dishes with the remaining butter (for easy clean up). Fill each ramekin with pasta. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese on top. Spread little pieces of butter.
Place in the oven for at least 10 minutes (until golden crispy brown) and broil for about 2-3 minutes to get a nice golden crust if necessary.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes.
I just discovered these wonderful stainless-steel vacuum lunch jars at the Korean store. The brand is Zojirushi, and they're also available at Williams-Sonoma. They're very convenient and keep the food warm for several hours!
If you want to prepare the dish in advance, place the creamy pasta in the baking dishes but only bake 30 minutes before you're ready to serve. (If you store the pasta in the refrigerator before baking, make sure the pasta is warm; maybe bake for a longer time, 15-20 minutes).
I used a wide variety of cheeses; you could use other cheeses such as goat cheese, Monterey Jack, Gruyère, Munster or even blue cheese.
To make béchamel sauce, I always use all the ingredients at the same temperature, so make sure to heat the milk in the microwave for about 2 minutes (or in a saucepan), so it's warm. If you get lumpy pieces in the sauce, don't hesitate to use a hand blender.
If you have béchamel left-over, don't discard it. Just store it for later and use it as a sauce for a croque-monsieur sandwich (ham and cheese sandwich).
Published By: on August 21, 2010.