Macaroni and Cheese

Someone just asked me for the macaroni and cheese recipe I used in the first Iron Chef Bloggingheads. Happy to oblige. There are a couple of departures from the traditional in this recipe. It uses a lot of cheese--basically, a two-to-one cheese to pasta ratio. It combines sharp cheddar with gruyere for flavor, and a small amount of processed American and Provolone cheese for smooth melt. You will be tempted, if you are a foodie, to eliminate the Kraft singles, but in fact they are crucial to getting that smooth velveeta-like texture without the awful velveeta-like flavor. And they use rotini rather than the traditional elbow pasta in order to give the cheese something to hold onto.

As the ingredients below attest, this is really, really not good for you. But it's worth it. Also, it will give you an opportunity to use your scale

1 pound rotini
12 tablespoons butter, softened
6 tablespoons of flour
2 cups of whole milk
1-2 cups of heavy cream (you may replace one cup of the cream with 1 small container of sour cream)
2 pounds of good sharp cheddar, grated
1/2 pound of gruyere, grated
3 Kraft American singles
2 slices of Kraft provolone
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch of paprika
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg*
Fresh ground black pepper**
Panko (japanese bread crumbs--if you can't find these, use unseasoned Four-C ones, but the panko make a nicer crust)

(optional for those who like it spicy)

Dash of cayenne pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Preaheat the oven to 375. Boil the pasta in a large pot of water with a tablespoon of salt. Do not be tempted to use a smaller pot because it makes the water boil faster; without dilution, the accumulated gluten will make the pasta sticky and slightly off-tasting. When it is cooked to slightly more al-dente than you would normally eat it, drain and return to the pasta pot. Don't forget to take the pot off the burner if you've got an electric stove--we're doing crispy noodles next week.

Meanwhile, make your white sauce with the butter, flour, milk, and cream, according to the instructions in my old macaroni and cheese recipe--the one I used before I learned that a little bit of processed cheese goes a long way.

Grate all of the cheeses, including the American cheese, in your food processor. If you don't have a food processor with a grater attachment, grate the gruyere and chedder, and chop the other cheeses fine.

In one bowl, mix 1.5 pounds of cheddar with 1/3 of a pound of gruyere, and all of the American and provolone. In another bowl, take the box of panko and mix it with the remaining cheddar and gruyere, and 3 tablespoons of soft butter.

When the white sauce is finished, stir in the spices, except for the salt and pepper, and the larger portion of cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.

Combine the cheese sauce and the pasta in the pasta pot. Meanwhile, use the remaining butter to well grease a large casserole (or two smaller ones, or adorable little ramekins like they serve at E). At this point, if you want to make ahead, you can refrigerate the bread crumbs and macaroni mixture separately, in well-covered dishes, for up to a day.

When you're ready to cook, top the macaroni mixture with the panko and cover the dish(es) with tinfoil. Bake, covered, for 40 minutes (60 minutes if it has been refrigerated). Uncover and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crispy looking.

* Don't give me that look. You can buy nutmeg in a disposable grater from the same folks who brought you the disposable salt and pepper grinders--you'll find them in the spice section of most supermarkets.

** I saw you looking at the pre-crushed pepper. Don't even think about it. The stuff has the taste and consistency of wood ash.