Baked Macaroni and Cheese: Updated

One of my mom’s specialties was her homemade macaroni and cheese.  Ironically, it wasn’t something she grew up eating.  In the Italian-American neighborhood where she spent her childhood, I’m pretty sure no one made, ate, or probably even gave any thought to classic American macaroni and cheese.  It just wasn’t part of the food culture.  However, when she left that area and headed to a less ethnic, more “middle-American” part of the state, she joined the ranks and began experimenting with mac and cheese.

Over time, my mom definitely changed her recipe a few times.  For many years she used a mixture of Velveeta  and cheddar, which melted beautifully and made for a very creamy finished product.  Then she began omitting the Velveeta and substituting all different combinations of other cheeses.  Early on, she used whole milk, which at some point became 2%, then 1%, then finally skim.  The macaroni itself never changed (always elbow shaped pasta), nor did the topping, which was always made from a combination of breadcrumbs, garlic powder, and paprika.  Through its many incarnations, it was always delicious.

These days, I try not to overindulge in massive amounts of pasta and cheese, but every so often when I’m feeling in the mood for comfort food, homemade macaroni and cheese is one of those recipes to which I always return.  Like my mom, I’ve made changes along the way, from using different shaped pastas (my kids like spirals), to different combinations of cheeses, and even some “add-ins” here and there.  I particularly like the idea of adding some sort of vegetable and/or protein to the mix, to amp up the nutritional value a bit.  This recipe is one of my favorite combinations.  Riffing on a classic Italian combination of peas and prosciutto, I use peas and diced, boiled ham.  The additions add texture and a great pop of color to the finished dish. 

It’s not exactly my mom’s mac and cheese, but I think she likes it just as much!

Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 4-6

12 oz macaroni (elbows, spirals, penne, etc)

1/2 cup onions, diced

1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil

1 dried bay leaf

2 cups skim milk

1 tablespoon corn starch

dash of Worcestershire sauce

dash white vinegar

1 teaspoon garlic powder (plus more for sprinkling)

2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated (plus more for sprinkling)

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1 cup diced ham

1/2 cup Panko (Japanese style) bread crumbs


salt and pepper

Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain, and set aside.

In the same pot used for the macaroni, heat canola oil and saute onions until transluscent.  Add bay leaf and cook for another couple minutes.

In a mixing cup, whisk together milk and cornstarch and add to pot.  Simmer for a few minutes, then add Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, garlic powder, salt & pepper.  Remove bay leaf and continue to simmer for about 2-3 minutes. 

Remove milk from heat and add cheeses.  Stir until a smooth sauce is acheived.

Add cooked macaroni, peas, and ham to the pot and stir to combine.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a __ quart casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and pour in macaroni mixture.

Top with bread crumbs, an additional sprinkling of garlic powder and parmesan cheese, and a bit of paprika.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes until top is browned and crispy, and the macaroni is bubbly.


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