It's got to be the number one comfort food (well, maybe number two behind really good mashed potatoes). Well made macaroni and cheese is a wonderful thing.
And, it's so easy, if you don't try to trick it up. Start with a good large elbow macaroni. Why the large elbows? Because you get more pasta flavor and the cheese sauce has more surface to hang onto. Use really, really good hoop cheddar cheese, that yellow cheddar with the red wax coating cut in wedges from cheese wheels. When it melts, it makes lovely cheesy strings. I bought some really good cheese at Publix recently.
I start with a white sauce -- butter, flour and milk. A good proportion for a not too thick white sauce is two tablespoons of butter two tablesponns of flour per cup of milk. My recipe is based on two cups of milk, so 1/4 cup of each. I'm assuming you know how to make white sauce*. After the sauce is prepared, season with cayenne pepper, for bite. You decide how much; from a pinch to a maximum of 1/8 tsp. is probably plenty. You don't have to salt it, because the cheese is salty enough. Use one cup of grated cheese for the two cup recipe of white sauce. Melt the cheese in the sauce, and stir until smooth.
While you're making the sauce, the macaroni should be cooking, 10 or 11 ounces of it; boil it until it's tender but not limp. Drain the macaroni well and put it back in the empty pan. Add another 1/2 to 1 cup of grated cheese (depending on how decadent you want to be) and 2 to 3 tablespoons butter. Stir this around until the butter is melted. Now pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni and stir.
That's it. What, you say, no crumb topping, no casserole dish, no oven time? Nope. And here's why: I don't want crunch in my mac and cheese. Just smooth, velvety cheese sauce and tender pasta. This is not a high-stimulation food. But, if you have to have the topping, use buttered bread crumbs and keep the oven time to a minimum, or you'll dry it out. You're just toasting the bread crumbs.
This recipe is not for the high-pretension cook - or the high-cholesterol diner, unfortunately. But hopefully a little indulgence occasionally won't kill you. This isn't something you eat every day, but when you need comfort food, this is just the ticket.
*If you don't know how - melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour. Stir and cook for two minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Slowly whisk in the milk, avoiding lumps. Cook until it thickens.