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.
Comfort food means different things to different people. For many, it implies favorites from childhood, reminding you of a safer time in your life–love and lunch, all wrapped up in a neat package.
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.
Baked Macaroni and Cheese
makes 6-8 servings
1 lb of pasta (medium shells, elbows, rotini, etc.)
1/2 cup of butter, divided
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
4 cups of various cheeses, shredded (I usually go with some sort of combination of cheddar, Monterrey Jack, American, and Gruyere)
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning blend
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large pot, cook pasta to al dente, according to box directions.
At the same time, melt 1/4 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 melted, remove from heat.
Melt the other 1/4 cup butter in the microwave. Add the Panko and Italian Seasoning, mixing well. Set aside.
In a 3qt casserole, combine the drained pasta and cheese sauce, mixing well. Sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs over the top.
Bake for 20 minutes. Turn on the broiler for the last 2 minutes to brown the bread crumbs. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.