There are days when all you want to do is hang out in your sweatpants, unkempt and unmade, snuggling under the covers while trying to repair the rents in your soul. There doesn’t necessarily have to be a cause–an identifiable reason–for this black hole to suck you in, leaving you flapping around helpless, unable to ward it off. These are the days that call for comfort food–something to feed your soul; buoying you, protecting you from the riptide of emptiness that looms on the horizon.
Baked macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods. I remember my mom making it infrequently, which made it all the more special. I learned the recipe from her and later discovered the mysterious source of her magical dish: the high school Foods class. In the same classroom, I ventured into familiar territory, comforted in the kitchen full of boys by the meal I already knew how to prepare.
As I grew older, I tweaked that decades-old stand-by, trying to jazz it up and make it better somehow. Just about every time I make macaroni and cheese, it’s different ever-so-slightly–a constant work in progress. That’s one of the great things about it: even if you alter the original, it’s still mac and cheese, that warm and inviting reminder of home, love, and joy. You can’t go wrong.
- 1 pound medium shells pasta
- ½ cup (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, divided
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 14 ounces various cheeses, shredded or chopped (I usually do a combination of Cheddars and either American, Gruyere, Parmesan, or even cream cheese)
- 1 cup Panko bread crumbs
- 1 Tablespoon Italian Seasoning blend
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large pot, cook pasta to al dente in salted water, according to box directions.
- At the same time, melt ¼ cup butter in a medium sauce pan. Once bubbly, stir in the flour.
- Once that has bubbled and thickened, add the milk. Stir occasionally until thickened.
- Add the cheese. Once nearly melted, remove from heat and set aside.
- Melt the other ¼ cup butter in the microwave. Add the Panko and Italian Seasoning, mixing well. Set aside.
- In a 3-quart casserole, combine the drained pasta and cheese sauce, mixing well. Sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs over the top.
- Bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.
- Turn on the broiler for the last 2 minutes to brown the bread crumbs. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.