It’s been raining virtually non-stop in Israel this winter. I can’t remember a winter where it rained this much. On days like today, when the rain is incessant and it’s cold and nasty outside, all I can think about is feeding myself and my family on some hot, creamy macaroni and cheese. As comfort food goes, it’s way up there with the greats like minestrone soup and beef stew. Only my quick version takes a lot less time and makes everyone happy because how can you go wrong with pasta and cheese?
For the traditionalists, I do make a proper version, with a béchamel sauce base. This version is more work (by that I mean stirring) and includes butter, which I don’t use in my quick version. For those with keen taste buds, the béchamel sauce version is definitely superior and tastes wonderful. On the other hand, my quick version is yummy, filling and I’m still waiting for the first complaint. When I have the energy, I make the proper version, and I’m always glad when I do. But don’t feel bad about taking the short cut.
TRADITIONAL MAC AND CHEESE
500 g (1 lb) noodles (macaroni, mini penne, or elbow)
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups milk
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
For the béchamel version: 4 tablespoons butter and 4 tablespoons flour…or
For the quick version: 2 tablespoons corn flour and about ¼ cup of cold milk
About 2 cups breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons oil
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
How to do it
1. Pre-heat the oven to 160°C (320°F)
2. Cook the pasta according to the directions.
3a. For the béchamel version: In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, then slowly stir in the flour and mix together for a 3 minutes until smooth and light brown in color. Very slowly, start adding the milk, while stirring. Keep stirring over low heat until the mixture thickens (this will take about 5 minutes, be patient and don’t stop stirring). Once the mixture thickens, add the garlic, salt and mustard and mix well. Then add the grated cheddar, mix till melted and remove from the heat.
3b. For the quick version: Heat the milk over medium heat in a saucepan, adding the salt, garlic powder and mustard. In a small bowl or cup, mix the cornflour into the cold milk until it has dissolved and there are no thick bits at the bottom. When the milk starts coming to a boil, add the cornflour while stirring. The mixture will thicken up very quickly. Turn the heat down to low and allow the mixture to bubble for about a minute. Add the grated cheddar, mix till melted and remove from the heat.
4. Drain the pasta and mix the sauce into the pasta. Pour the mixture into a large greased oven-proof dish.
5. In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs and the oil, and if desired, the Parmesan cheese (recommended). Sprinkle evenly across the top of the dish. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top starts browning.
Makes 6-8 servings.