Saturday, March 3, 2012

Macaroni, matrimony, and cheese

Edna Lewis' Mac and Cheese
It came out in conversation a few months ago that my friend Ben doesn't like macaroni and cheese. Doesn't like macaroni and cheese! I didn't think that that was humanly possible--at least for someone who'd grown up in this country. Worse yet, he admitted, his fiancée loves mac and cheese. How was this going to work out once they tied the knot this summer? Would Ben have to sneak his share of mac and cheese to the dog? Would the dog even welcome a pile of mac and cheese in his bowl? It didn't matter--there would be no room for a dog and two people in a Hyde Park apartment. Ben was a little apprehensive.
So, naturally, I invited him over for dinner. Ben's a good guy--the picture of a southern gentleman, really--well-dressed, soft-spoken, warm and, of course, appreciative of the good things in life, like fine bourbon and bluegrass. I wanted to do what little I could for his and his fiancée's matrimonial happiness. So, it was time to subject him to a good plateful of mac and cheese, hot, golden, and bubbly--something that would be irresistible, even to a hardened sceptic like him.
Okay, so it turned out that Ben was not all that hardened a sceptic. His past experiences with mac and cheese had been of the orange-powdered, cardboard-boxed variety. And that's probably enough to leave most at least somewhat sceptical. All that Ben really needed was a little push, and I was happy to be the one to do it, to acquaint him with the good stuff.
The mac and cheese we made that night was a southern variation on the standard bubbly, baked sort. Instead of starting with a roux and making a cheese sauce for the macaroni, you douse it in a rather immodest mixture of cream and eggs, scattering cubes of cheddar throughout, and then finish it off with another good heap of cheddar. It bakes up golden and creamy, almost custard-like beneath that cheesy lid.
That said, I can see how an absolute die-hard mac and cheese lover might not be entirely satisfied with this particular plate--it doesn't ooze cheese. But I still think it's fantastic, especially with a mess of braised collards on the side. And most importantly, it won Ben over. I look forward to the wedding!

Southern-Style Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock's The Gift of Southern Cooking via the May 2010 Saveur
Note: I used 2 cups of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk in place of heavy cream and half-and-half with no issues. I'm pretty confident that using less heavy cream wouldn't have been a problem either. And if indeed you're a die-hard mac and cheese lover, a few more ounces of cubed cheddar probably wouldn't hurt.

12 oz elbow macaroni
Butter, for greasing
13 oz extra-sharp cheddar, 7 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) cut into half-inch cubes + 6 oz (about 2 cups) grated
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2⁄3 cup sour cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1⁄2 cups half-and-half
1 1⁄2 cups heavy cream
1⁄3 cup grated onion
1 teaspoon Worcestershire

Heat oven to 350° F. Bring a 4-quart saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until cooked halfway through, about 3 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to a buttered 9" x 13" baking dish. Stir in the cubed cheddar cheese and set aside.
Combine the salt, flour, mustard, black pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne in a large mixing bowl. Add the sour cream and the eggs and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the half-and-half, heavy cream, onions, and Worcestershire. Pour the egg mixture over the reserved pasta mixture and stir to combine. Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the surface. Bake until the pasta mixture is set around the edges but still a bit loose in the center, 60-70 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 8-10.


  1. schmackhaft! (that will be my German word of the day!)
    Honestly that mac & cheese looks absolutely amazing. I love mac & cheese in all of it's forms, even the horrid boxed neon orange form. I rarely allow myself to indulge these days, but I should let the reins out a little bit and make this recipe. Don't you think mac & cheese would make a nice addition to Thanksgiving dinner? That's the girl who likes the sides better than the turkey speaking...Thanksgiving for me is an amalgamation of all of my favorite sides in once place, so I see no reason to exclude mac & cheese from the menu.

    I hope you are having a nice Sunday, complete with a lot of leftovers
    Tschüss :)

  2. That looks SOOOO yummy!!! To be honest I dont understand how anyone could dislike macaroni cheese - even the packaged powdered stuff! I dont eat it because I know whats in it... BUT if I had to eat junk food it would poss be top of the list. I love the Trader Joes, suppousedly slightly healthier, boxed version.

    Yours looks way yummier though - lucky lucky guy!!

  3. I like mac and cheese but I don't think I've ever coveted it--I guess I've never had a true "craving" for it and often pass it up for other things. Especially when my roommate pulls out the powdered cheese flavoring she buys in bulk to add to her pasta. That being said... I do think it is impossible to dislike good mac and cheese! I love how this one sounds especially. Looks like a delicious combination of textures, which sounds awesome since most mac and cheese is so mono-mushy (making that word up). I want to try this out!

  4. Talley, I hadn't thought of mac and cheese at the Thanksgiving table, but I don't think that it would be out of place. I'm with you on the sides!

    Thanks, Em. I'll admit it too: I'll resort to the boxed stuff when neither my boyfriend nor I have the will to cook...and we enjoy it, especially if we can manage a few roasted broccoli florets to throw in at the end.

    Amy, doesn't your roommate read your blog? Bulk powdered cheese! Yikes. Let me know how it goes if you end up trying this.

  5. I have two roommates and only one of them reads my blog. The one who doesn't is the bulk powdered cheese culprit. Let's hope she doesn't start reading my blog and click around to find these comments on here! Haha

  6. Salivating here. Completely. I *love* mac and cheese. Frankly, it's been too long. Hmmm... dinner guests tomorrow ...