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Baked Macaroni  with Mixed Cheeses  
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By Charlie Burke

Whenever we ask our friend, Tobey, what he would like  for dinner, his invariable
answer is “mac and cheese.” I think “calories and fat” and move on to an
alternative.

Recently, though, I heard that Kraft sells a million boxes of macaroni and “cheese”
dinners every day. I checked the ingredients list on a box in the market and found
“Yellow 5 and Yellow 6” listed before the final ingredient, “cheese culture”
whatever that means. If so many are eating industrial, chemically enhanced mac
and cheese, there must be a place in our archives for a version using real
ingredients

I must admit to fond memories of my mom’s mac and cheese, a lunch staple on
meatless Fridays in the days before awareness of cholesterol and trans fats
changed our eating habits. Also, it has become fashionable, appearing on menus of
upscale restaurants, often combined with lobster.

So, knowing pounds of yellow dye are being served to children every year in this
most popular “dinner” and with the temperature reading below zero before
sunset, with predictions of minus twenty temperatures tonight in central New
Hampshire, I decided it was time to make my version of this most popular of
comfort foods. When our kids were young, Joanne occasionally made her own
from scratch, and she agreed to collaborate,

Cheddar, in my opinion, is the cheese of choice, but we decided a mix would be
more interesting and chose half cheddar, combined with a mix of Monterey Jack
and Asiago and added some dry mustard powder and a background of cayenne,
reminiscent of old recipes for Welsh Rarebit.

For a crunchy top we chose panko bread crumbs mixed with Parmesan cheese and
flavored with sweet Spanish paprika. The result was a creamy version with
cheddar flavor predominating but with other cheeses and flavorings giving it
layers of more complex flavors, and Jo’s addition of sautéed chopped onion to the
béchamel added a touch of sweetness.

Serves six as a main course, more as a side:

¾ pound of pasta – small penne, campanelle, gamelli or elbows
12-14 ounces of cheese, grated – all cheddar or a mix of half cheddar and fontina,
Monterey Jack or other remnants.
2 ½ cups milk
2 ½ tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter or substitute (we like Earth Balance)
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne or to taste
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup panko bread crumbs
1 ½ teaspoons paprika
Freshly ground pepper and salt

In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta, removing it just as it reaches “al
dente”, usually 2 -3 minutes before the time suggested on the box. Drain the pasta
and run it under cold water to prevent further cooking.

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat and add the onions when the
butter melts. Cook until the onions are soft but not browned. Add the flour and
cook, stirring for several minutes to cook the flour. Whisk in the milk gradually
and cook, stirring over low heat until the milk thickens, 10–15 minutes. Stir in the
grated cheese and stir until it is melted. Add the mustard and cayenne and then
taste, adding black pepper and salt (remember cheese adds significant salt) and
more cayenne or mustard to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the pasta into the cheese and transfer the
mixture to a greased baking dish. Mix the grated parmesan, bread crumbs and
paprika and spread them evenly over the surface.

Bake until the top is browned and the liquid is bubbling: 45 – 50 minutes.

As the sales figures show, macaroni and cheese is firmly entrenched in Americans’
eating habits. Portion control is important in this lipid laden meal, and it makes
sense to serve a salad that is larger than the “main course.”

Certainly, it is better to exclude the chemicals of prepared versions (do read the
label), and if you are serving it regularly to your family, this recipe is quite easy
and lends itself to doubling. It is then possible to weigh individual servings for
freezing in order to control how much your family members consume at each meal.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm to
Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along with
his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill
Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
The Heart of New England
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Baked Mac & Cheese, Photo by Tobey Shoemaker
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