I'm not sure why someone like me, one of the lucky and privileged few, should need comfort, but every now and then I do.
Sometimes, I'm missing my Dad, even 15 years after his death. Sometimes, I'm wishing for a visit from a dear friend. Other times, although I adore our lovely dog, I wish I had a cat, for that special kind of quiet love only a purring cat can provide. When I feel like that, I make mac and cheese. From scratch, using really good ingredients.
Sure, I could get mac and cheese, much faster, out of a box, but it wouldn't be the same, not even the organic versions. I could also use other noodles than elbows, but that wouldn't fit my mental picture of mac and cheese. There's something comforting, not only in the eating of mac and cheese but also in the making of it. It's simple, straightforward and nearly mistake proof.
I'm careful to cook the macaroni just to al dente stage, not letting it get mushy. I also add chopped onion, sautéeing the onion in butter before adding the flour. I make the white sauce with real butter, all purpose flour and fresh milk (or, sometimes, half-and-half), letting the flour cook to a toasty flavor before adding the milk. This time, I had on hand three kinds of cheese, a smoky gouda, a small block of cheddar and a hunk of taleggio. None of them was, or should be, orange. I cut them into smallish pieces before adding them to the white sauce and stirring over low heat until they all meld together, then pour in the cooked and drained elbow macaroni and mix until every little curl is well coated with cheesy, oniony goodness.
The final step is the hardest part - postponing the satisfaction. You must wait until the mixture cools and rests for at least an hour, and preferably overnight. When you're hungry for comfort, it's difficult to do.
But then, when you reheat gently, everything has combined and strengthened into a deeply cheesy, unctuous whole, as if all the flavors had regrouped during the rest, found reinforcements, and come barreling back. At this point, you could add garlic crumbs to the top and bake but often, by then, I don't want to wait any longer; I get a fork and dive in.
Labels: mac and cheese