When I was a kid, I loved Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese. Once, my mother — an amazing cook — made mac and cheese from scratch and, because it was made with whole-wheat penne and also because it lacked a fluorescent orange color, I was not a fan. So it was Stouffer’s, or now that I’m a grown-up Annie’s, for me. However, even though Annie’s is ubiquitous and I know its fans are loyal, I don’t really see its appeal. I want my mac and cheese baked; Annie’s consistency always feels loose and soupy to me. But when you’re making mac and cheese for one, a box of Annie’s or Stouffer’s is the way to go. Mac and cheese isn’t expensive (though getting good quality cheese makes it a little less cheap than you’d think), but it is a Goliath of a dish. Meaning, the perfect potluck dinner party option.
Especially when your dinner party is for a vegetarian. This is one hearty entree. I made this for a dinner party recently, at which maybe half of it was consumed. The rest went to a second, more casual dinner (ie. GG viewing session) where it was a side for pulled pork (perhaps not the most typical GG fare). I followed the recipe, but when it came time to taste the cheese/egg sauce, I found the whole thing a little too…cheesy. Cheesy is great, but one-dimensional cheesiness is just cheesiness, and we can do better than that. A little more hot sauce, some ground coriander, and some cayenne, and things were looking up.
This was a big hit at dinner — the leeks, the penne, and the nicer Canadian farmhouse extra-sharp cheddar (about $15 worth for the whole tray) made it seem sophisticated. while at the same time being good ol’ mac and cheese. I recommend making this for a crowd (this much butter and cheese and eggs ain’t messing around); it reheats and reheats and reheats like a star, meaning making it ahead of time is easy, and leftovers are just as good as the first day.
Coming on Friday, the two really wonderful salads another guest made, which went shockingly well with the mac and cheese. (You’ll want something acidic to cut the richness of this dish, and Friday’s carrot salad and orange salad did just that, beautifully.)
Fancy Macaroni: Baked Penne with Farmhouse Cheddar and Leeks
Adapted from Bon Appétit, March 2009
BA says this serves six; I’d say it serves more like ten
– 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
– 5 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only; about 5 large)
– 1/4 cup all purpose flour
– 3 1/2 cups whole milk
– 1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 4 cups packed)
– 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
– 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
– 2 teaspoons ground coriander
– 1-2 teaspoons cayenne
– ½ teaspoon garlic powder
– 2 large eggs
– 1 pound penne pasta
– ½ can premade bread crumbs (or you can make your own, though I actually like the finer texture of the premade here)
– salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Lightly butter 15x10x2-inch baking dish. Melt 1/4 cup butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; stir to coat. Cover saucepan and cook until leeks are tender, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes (do not brown). Uncover saucepan; add flour. Stir 2 minutes. Add milk; bring to simmer, stirring often. Add cheese, mustard, and pepper sauce. Stir until cheese melts. Remove from heat. Season cheese sauce to taste with salt.
2. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Return to pot.
3. Meanwhile, whisk eggs in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 1 cup cheese sauce (it’s important that you do this gradually, so the eggs don’t curdle by being exposed to too much heat, too fast). Stir egg mixture into cheese sauce in saucepan. Add cayenne, coriander, garlic powder, and anything else you want. Add salt and freshly ground pepper (I was worried the black pepper would look weird in this sauce; it doesn’t).
4. Stir cheese sauce into pasta in pot. Transfer to prepared baking dish. (At this point, you can put this in the fridge and keep it there for a few hours til you’re ready to bake it.) Sprinkle bread crumbs over. Bake pasta until cheese sauce is bubbling around edges and some ends of pasta are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.
5. Let stand 15 minutes (this is to help everything solidify). Serve hot.