Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Macaroni and Cheese Comfort for the Soul

It probably wouldn't be on the menu for your mother-in-law's first dinner visit, and it isn't exactly gourmet fare, but macaroni and cheese is one of the most popular--if not the most popular--American comfort foods (it took second place in my survey). Nearly every soul food cookbook and many Southern cookbooks have recipes for the American favorite, with few differences from one to the next.

Some believe the dish was created by founding father Thomas Jefferson, known for his great interest in food, and in a 1996 "Restaurants & Institutions" article, Barbara Bell Matuszewski wrote that Jefferson served the dish in the White House in 1802. However, noted food historian Karen Hess claims Jefferson did not invent the dish, though he did return from a trip to Paris with a macaroni mold

According to John Mariani, author of "The Dictionary of American Food and Drink," macaroni and cheese was first made in the nineteenth century, but it took on a even greater popularity when Kraft Foods introduced the Kraft Dinner (macaroni and cheese) in 1937. According to a company spokesperson, Kraft now sells more than one million boxes of the dinners every day! The Kraft dinners are so popular, in fact, that children and some adults have been known to turn up their noses when offered a rich and delicious homemade version.

Homemade macaroni and cheese can be a simple layering of cooked macaroni, shredded (or sliced) cheese and salt and pepper, or it can be made with a white sauce-cheese base, topped with more cheese and buttered crumbs before baking. This ever-so-humble dish is delicious and satisfying as is, but you can jazz it up (homemade or package version) with the addition of chopped vegetables, meat, fish or poultry, or your favorite herbs or spices.

Vermont Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups uncooked ziti or elbow macaroni

1/4 cup butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup flour

1-3/4 cups milk

10.-oz. block of Sharp Vermont White Cheddar Cheese, shredded


Cook ziti or elbow macaroni as directed.

Melt butter in frying pan over medium heat. Stir in salt and pepper. Add flour, and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until smooth. Remove the frying pan from the stove and add milk.

Return the frying pan to the burner and gradually increase heat as you stir constantly. When mixture boils, continue to stir for one minute, then remove from heat. Stir in shredded cheddar cheese.

Add cheese sauce to the macaroni and stir thoroughly. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle top with paprika, then bake for another five minutes.

I love pasta and I really love cheese so this is by far my favorite recipe for Macaroni and cheese!!

Five Cheese Bake Macaroni

1 (16 ounce) package elbow macaroni

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

Breadcrumbs for the top (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add macaroni, and cook until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain.

In a large bowl, toss together the mozzarella cheese, Swiss cheese, Parmesan cheese and extra sharp white cheddar cheese. Remove about 1/2 cup for topping and set aside. In a separate bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, sour cream and heavy cream. Season with parsley, Italian seasoning and garlic salt.

Pour the ricotta cheese mixture and drained macaroni into the bowl with the cheeses and toss lightly. Do not mix too thoroughly, it's better left messy. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top along with the breadcrumbs (if you desire).

Bake in the preheated oven until cheese is melted, about 10 minutes, then turn the oven to broil. Broil for about 5 minutes to brown the top.

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