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College comfort food: Baked mac and cheese

<h6>Photo credit: Casey Beidel/The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Photo credit: Casey Beidel/The Daily Princetonian

If you’re anything like me, sweater weather and rainy days make you crave hearty, indulgent comfort food. I’m always yearning for some gooey macaroni and cheese. For college students, the easy route is Kraft or Annie’s White Cheddar. Don’t get me wrong – those are delicious in their own gloriously processed and packaged way, but here I’m giving you a simple, home-made version of a classic dish. It can be made with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry, and is a total show-stopper to impress your friends (socially distanced, of course!).

Let’s get into it:

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Ingredients

For the Mac and Cheese:

  • 1 box of pasta (a smaller-medium sized shape works best)
  • 6 tablespoons of butter
  • 6 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups of warm milk
  • 5-6 cups of grated cheese (my go-to choices are cheddar, Gruyère, Havarti, and Pecorino Romano, but the more the merrier! Whatever you have on hand will work!)
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

For the breadcrumb topping:

  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • ½ cup plain panko breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • If you only have one type of breadcrumbs, no problem – just use 1 cup!
  • ¼ cup Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

Recipe

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  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Boil your pasta for 2-3 minutes less than the instructions say; it will cook more in the oven, so it should be firm after boiling. Drain the pasta and set aside. 
  3. Melt the 6 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, whisking constantly for 3-4 minutes; you’re cooking out the taste of the flour in this step. It should come out a yellowish-white color.
  4. Whisking constantly, add your warm milk to the saucepan slowly; it will appear lumpy at first, just keep whisking and it will come together. Bring it to a boil and then immediately turn the heat down to low; then, let it simmer for 4-5 minutes, whisking constantly until the béchamel is smooth, silky, and shiny. 
  5. Remove from heat, and stir in the cayenne pepper, nutmeg, black pepper, and salt. Once stirred together, taste it – you may want some more cayenne pepper for a kick, or perhaps you want to add paprika or another spice. Up to you! If you use saltier cheeses (Parmesan, American), use less salt, but make sure you taste it throughout to get the perfect seasoning. 
  6. Stir in the cheese until it melts; it should form a thick sauce. You can always stir in more cheese to get the consistency you’d like!
  7. Pour the cooked pasta into the cheese sauce and mix together.
  8. Grease your favorite casserole dish, using nonstick cooking spray or butter. Pour in the pasta.
  9. Melt the two tablespoons of butter and pour it into a bowl with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan/Pecorino Romano. Mix them together; the butter helps the breadcrumbs get extra crispy while baking. Top your pasta with a layer of the breadcrumbs, and bake for 30-40 minutes; it should be bubbling, and the breadcrumbs should be golden brown when finished. 

Note: Feel free to add any mix-ins to the pasta before baking – steamed cauliflower/broccoli, caramelized onion, crumbled bacon, or sun-dried tomatoes all go really well! Today I’ve opted for the classic recipe, but go all out!

You’ll never need Kraft again – enjoy!


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Photo credit: Casey Beidel/The Daily Princetonian

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