Warning: this is not health food. It is comfort food. And it is GOOOOOOD.
There’s not much to this except for a lot of cheese and a lot of stirring. Let’s do this!
To start, get one pound of macaroni elbows cooking. There was recently a fascinating article in the New York Times about cooking pasta without waiting for the water to boil. I tried it and it worked like gang busters. But do what feels right to you.
While the pasta is doing its thing, pour one cup of chicken broth and 24 ounces evaporated (not condensed) milk into a four-cup Pyrex cup or similar and place it in the microwave. You want to heat this up enough so that it is steamy, but not boiling. Try it for three minutes at first and add a minute more until you get there (I think it took me six minutes total).
Meanwhile, in a large soup pot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter is completely melted, add 1/3 cup of flour and whisk like hell to combine. It’s going to get gloopy. But keep it moving. Best to do this all over medium heat.
Then,once the flour and butter are combined, add about 1/4 or your milk mixture to the pot. You want to stir it up enough so that all the flour and butter is incorporated into the milk with no lumps or bumps. Once you get to that point and the ingredients in the pot are getting thick and bubbly, add another 1/4 of the milk mixture. Repeat until all the milk mixture is in the pot. And stir stir stir the whole time. Seriously, a few seconds of not stirring and the whole thing will fall apart.
Once all of the milk mixture is in the pot, add 1/2 cup of good Parmesan cheese – that means NOT the sawdust. We have recently taken to buying big hunks and keeping them wrapped up tight in the refrigerator. They’re a bit more expensive, but the taste is AMAZING and the cheese lasts forever. Mike grated the cheese while I was stirring. If you don’t have an extra set of hands, grate the Parmesan cheese first!
Whisk in the cheese until it is totally melted and add some freshly grated black pepper to your sauce.
Now, here’s where you have some options. If, like us, you are making this to eat straight away as a main dish with no additional toppings OR you plan on serving this as a side dish, say, to fried chicken, then go ahead and use mostly mild cheddar cheese for the next step. However, if you enjoy mac and cheese the way I do, with stewed tomatoes on top, use more sharp cheddar cheese.
The ultimate sharp to mild cheese ratio (or mild to sharp, depending on your preference) is 3:1, but you need four cups of cheese and shredded cheese is sold in 2 cup bags. So, if you don’t plan on buying any more cheese than you need for this recipe, your options are all sharp, all mild, or half and half. Got that? Choose wisely.
At any rate, get all four cups of cheddar cheese into your sauce and stir away until the cheese is entirely melted. To try and cut out some of the fat, we used one bag of whole milk cheese and one bag of 2%. We used all sharp cheddar, and honestly, on first taste, it was a little much. But it mellowed out over the next 12 hours or so.
But back to the recipe — when your pasta is done, drain it and fold it into the sauce mix. Give ‘er a good stir.
At this point, this mac and cheese might be too creamy and cheesy for some tastes. If you don’t like the looks of it, just throw it in a casserole dish, top with bread crumbs and place in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or so until the top begins to brown. Or, you can just dig right in. I mean, it ain’t gonna be bad.
If you think this is good, though, wait until you try the leftovers. Woah!