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The Foodie Files

Is there anything that says comfort food like macaroni and cheese? Some of my earliest food memories are going down the country to visit my Grandma Caroline and having the whole family gathered around the dinner table as she doled out mounds of cheesy-deliciousness. This isn’t her exact recipe, but it is certainly in the spirit of down home cooking with good friends and family.

While mac & cheese is simple, it does require a little bit of skill and finesse to pull off correctly, as the base of the cheese sauce (sauce Mornay) is a béchamel sauce (one of the four French mother sauces). Once you know how to make this basic cream-based sauce, which will take some time to perfect, you can use it for a million and one applications.

One of the things that makes this recipe unique is the use of four cheeses, all of which are there to play a very specific role. The Cheddar provides a sharp bite that is countered by the Gruyere, the Fontina provides a subtlety and creamy texture, and the saltiness of the Pecorino brings out all of the other flavors. Another other key element is the crust, which will lend a texture to the gooiness of the pasta. Finally, for this recipe we will use cavatappi, the corkscrew pasta, instead of the classic elbow macaroni because it holds the heavy sauce better.

Makes 6-8 Servings

1 lb Cavatappi 1 tblspn EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)¼ lb Cheddar cheese, grated¼ lb Gruyere (any Swiss will do), grated¼ lb Fontina/Fontinella, grated3 tblspn Butter3 tblspn White flour2 cups 2% Milk¼ cup Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan), finely grated ¼ cup Bread crumbs(optional) 3 slices of Bacon, crumbled

Pasta1) In a large saucepan, boil enough water to cover your pound of pasta.2) When it boils, add your pasta and EVOO then return to a boil3) Reduce the heat and let it cook until al dente; or 10-12 minutes.

Sauce Mornay1) In a skillet, melt your butter over a medium heat2) Gradually add the flour until it has combined with the butter. You now have what is known as a roux.3) Heat your milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until it is hot but not boiling.4) Gradually blend your hot milk into the roux until it is evenly combined, making sure to beat out any lumps with a whisk or a fork. Now you have a béchamel.5) To turn your béchamel into a sauce Mornay, add the grated Cheddar, Gruyere and Fontina/Fontinella until it melts together.

Mac & Cheese1) To finish you Ultimate Mac & Cheese, drain your pasta and put in a 9×13 baking dish and cover it in the sauce Mornay making sure each piece of pasta is coated.2) Combine the Pecorino and breadcrumbs in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the top. If you opted to use the bacon, combine it in to this mixture before topping.3) Bake at 325° for 15-20 minutes.

While this not the healthiest meal ever, as country cooking rarely is, it is certainly delicious, will definitely provide leftovers, and is relatively simple to make. It will also prove palatable to even the most finicky eater, as I have yet to meet the person who can resist hot, gooey cheese and noodles. For a fun twist, add ham or cooked chicken before you bake it. Any way you do it, let me know how it goes and bon appetit!