My mother used to make this on the regular in our home when I was growing up, and yesterday I was utterly craving something gooey and cheesy. I also discovered, to my delight, that I remembered how to make it without asking my mother and without looking up a recipe.
Which admittedly makes the following recipe proximal but not guaranteed to be identical to what I’ve made. Also, I will be including a note on translating this recipe to a gluten free friendly diet for those who have Celiac’s Disease or whatever other ailments restrict gluten intake.
- 1 stick of butter (I know, but you want enough to create a thick layer on the bottom of a large saucepan)
- approximately 1/2 c. flour*
- 1.5 to 2 c. milk (I use skim because I think it stays saucy better; milk with fat in cooks too thick)
- 1.5 c. shredded cheddar cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lb. cooked macaroni or other small pasta (I used orecchiette yesterday) **
- optional, 1/2 c. shredded gruyere or other hard cheese
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large saucepan, melt your butter until it’s fully liquid, but don’t brown or boil it (using a medium to low temperature works well for this). Add flour by the spoonful, whisking into butter to create a roux. Your roux should be a sloppy paste that covers the bottom of the saucepan; thick enough to pile into lumps, but thin enough to melt back down to flat left alone. Add milk, whisking in to remove lumps of roux, and salt and pepper to taste. Raise heat to medium, add 3/4 c. shredded cheddar. Whisk occasionally until cheese is melted. (If you use a finer/microplane grater, the cheese will melt more quickly and evenly with fewer “strings” of melted cheese.)
Meanwhile, you will have wanted to cook your pasta and drain it; if it has gotten cold, that’s fine. In a casserole or other deeper baking dish, combine your sauce with your pasta. Over the top, spread the remaining shredded cheese, combining with another for more complex flavor. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the cheese on top starts to bubble. Remove and serve. If you’re not a huge fan of puddles of butter on your food, and hey, I’m not judging, go ahead and use a couple of paper towels to lightly pat the excess butter from the top before cutting in.
And that’s it! It’s actually remarkably simple, definitely one of my favorite comfort foods, and generally a good way to please everyone but vegans and the lactose intolerant.
*My friend Princess recommends using potato starch here to create your roux, as cornstarch will be too lumpy and rice flour will be too hearty.
**Any gluten-free pasta should work here, but because you are both cooking the pasta in water and then baking it, corn or quinoa pastas will probably hold up better than rice pasta.