For a young Mom yearning for a night out of the house it was an easy thing to leave for the baby sitter. Anyone can follow those directions and make it. And I redeemed myself by leaving instructions for steaming fresh broccoli and where to find the frozen blueberries in the freezer. It’s a parenting regret I can’t do anything about.
Okay, I guess it was not an earth shattering decision, but for a food professional like me, it’s pretty close. Boxed macaroni and cheese, yes, that’s the subject here. And for all of you Mom and Dad’s out there with young kids, unlike me, you have the chance right now to start your kids down the right path.
Don’t leave them with the indelible childhood memory of fake tasting cheese out of a box when you can start them with homemade. Food memories from childhood stay with you your entire life and they’re hard to reverse. They form the standard of what something should taste like, not necessarily because it tastes good but because it is a memory association.
Mac ‘n Cheese is one of the ultimate comfort food dishes and rightly so. Who can deny the wonderful combination of creamy melted cheese with pasta? It’s a dish that knows no age boundaries. And yet depending on your age, there’s certain ingredients that do and don’t work.
For the very young, keep it simple. Macaroni shaped noodles and mild Cheddar cheese. Most kids will remain loyal to it like this for many years. I have an easy version here you can follow.
But for the older and more developed taste, here is my version. It has three of my favorite ingredients. Oven roasted ripe cherry tomatoes, fragrant fresh rosemary and sharp flavored white Cheddar cheese. Unlike some versions that use cream as the sauce base, mine is made with a base of milk and high quality white Cheddar cheese. I prefer WSU Cougar Gold or Beecher’s Flagship. It’s simple yet flavorful.
If you’re in a hurry, baking it with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.
- 2 cups (1 pint) cherry tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 2 cups milk
- ½ stick (2 ounces)) butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 cups grated (12 ounces) white cheddar cheese (I prefer WSU Cougar Gold or Beecher’s Flagship)
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
- ½ pound elbow macaroni (penne can be substituted)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ⅓ cup fresh breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Toss the tomatoes with olive oil; spread in a single layer on a sheet pan and sprinkle with salt. Roast until tomatoes are soft (skins will split) about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Heat milk until hot but not boiling; set aside. Melt butter in a saucepan; whisk in flour and cook 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Whisk in a small amount of milk and stir and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes, then whisk in remaining milk; bring to a simmer and cook over low heat until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in grated cheese; season with salt and pepper.
- Butter a 2-quart baking dish.
- Cook macaroni according to package directions, cooking just until there is still a little bite in the noodle (“al dente”); drain and stir into the cheese sauce. Add roasted cherry tomatoes, rosemary and red pepper flakes, stirring just enough to combine evenly. Transfer to buttered dish; sprinkle with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.
- Bake at 400 degrees until bubbling and lightly golden, about 15 minutes.
- 2 cups milk
- ½ stick (1/4 cup) butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 cups (12 ounces)grated mild Cheddar cheese
- ½ pound elbow macaroni
- Heat milk until hot but not boiling; set aside. Melt butter in saucepan; whisk in flour and cook 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Whisk in ½ cup milk and stir and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes, then whisk in remaining milk; bring to simmer and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese; season with salt and pepper.
- Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain and stir into sauce.