We made a beautiful Mac and Cheese for New Year’s Day and I realized that this is truly a great American dish. If you haven’t started to develop your own personal recipe, make it a New Year’s resolution to do so.
Thomas Jefferson became infatuated with macaroni and cheese while in France during the Revolutionary War. He introduced the dish to the U.S. where it was a commonly served at the White House during his presidency.
There are three components to a Dependable Mac and Cheese – the sauce, the cheeses, and the “accoutrements” – those things you might add to really set the dish off.
A good Mac and Cheese should start with a true Béchemel sauce – made from scratch in true Bravado fashion. Forget the processed packets or anything else in a package with writing on it. Béchemel is easy to make and very sexy if you are cooking in front of a crowd. Simple ingredients – flour, butter and milk – somehow combine to make a rich creamy sauce.
According to Larousse Gastronomique, Béchemel sauce is named after the “Marquis de Béchamel”, actually Louis de Béchameil, Marquis de Nointel (1630–1703), a financier who held the honorary post of chief steward to Louis XIV. Wikipedia calls it “the Mother sauce of French cuisine”. It is used extensively in Northern Italian cuisine – especially for lasagne and baked pasta dishes.
Next, you need to choose a cheese or cheeses that melt well. This usually means a softer cheese like cheddar, Gruyere, Emmental, or jack (pepper or Monterrey), but you can also use Pecorino Romano or Parmesano Reggiano. In this recipe, we have selected sharp cheddar and Gruyere. You can experiment and find something you like.
Finally, you need to decide if you want to add something to the mix. It can be anything – ham, lobster, hot peppers, or vegetables. Some of these things can go inside the dish itself, or they can be a topping – like breadcrumbs, which is very common. In this recipe we use broccoli to mix with the noodles and sauce and diced pieces of bread for the top.
Total prep time: 1 hour
Degree of difficulty: 6.5
- 2-1/2 cups of any bread you want to use. Tear up pieces of day old bread, cut up slices of a thin French baguette or be very tidy and cut the crust off of 5-6 slices of sourdough bread and dice into ½ inch squares.
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 6 cups whole milk
- ½ cup flour
- 8 tbsp. unsalted butter (1 stick)
Mac and Cheese:
- 1 lb. elbow macaroni
- 6 cups grated cheddar – sharp preferably
- 3 cups grated Gruyere
- 3 cups broccoli – cut into florets or small pieces
- ½ tsp. nutmeg
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. pepper
- Grease a square glass casserole pan. We like a bigger size – 11”x15” – if you have one.
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Mix the pieces of bread with 2 tbsp. of melted butter, add a pinch of pepper, and set aside.
- Steam the broccoli for about four minutes – do not overcook since it will finish cooking in the oven. Set aside
- Bring about 3 qts. of water to boil. Add 1 tsp. of salt and a little olive oil. Cook the elbow macaroni for four minutes and set aside. Don’t exceed four minutes since the macaroni will finish cooking in the oven.
- Melt the stick of butter in a small saucepan while you warm the milk in a larger saucepan.
- Now you are ready to start the Béchemel sauce. For this, you need your largest sauté pan. Pour the melted butter into the pan and set to a medium heat. Slowly pour the flour into the butter, stirring constantly. Take your time – you are making a classic roux. You will end up with a light brown paste.
- Slowly add the milk to the roux and keep stirring the mixture for about five minutes until it becomes thick and creamy.
- Turn off the heat and add the grated cheeses. Hold back about ¼ of the cheese to add to the top. Then add the macaroni and mix some more. Finally, add the broccoli florets, give a final stir and pour into the glass casserole dish.
- Sprinkle the remainder of the cheese and the bread over the top. The bread will brown up in the oven and make the final dish look wonderful. Bake for 30 minutes, cool for 10 minutes and serve.
Offer this dish to a group of 6-8 people and I guarantee you that there will not be one morsel left.
Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, had a great idea. Instead of putting the entire dish in on large casserole, she suggests making a number of versions at the same time and putting them into smaller ramekins or smaller oven safe bowls. This allows you to maybe put broccoli in one, lobster in another and ham in a third. You can even heat one up with Jalepeños.