The Ultimate Mac and Cheese Recipe

Obviously, I love to cook and try new recipes. But there is a downside to all that. When you are always trying something different in an attempt to make a dent in that ever-growing recipe collection, you miss out on having a signature recipe. The one thing you do so well that you automatically have to make it for practically every family function. My mother-in-law is famous for her lasagna, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, among many other delicious recipes. My mom is famous for her cheese platter (she knows the best stores and how to pick the best variety), her soups, and her garlic shrimp.

Me? I don’t know if I’m quite there yet. Especially since part of me likes the challenge of constantly trying new things. But either way, I’m working on it with a recipe for mac and cheese that has already made quite a name for itself. And the craziest part. It’s super easy. No rue, no breadcrumbs,  just lots and lots of cheese. So as the Saints were touching down to win the Superbowl, I was perfectly content watching my dish get devoured by plenty of happy fans. Oh, and did I mention, this is my husband’s favorite meal ever? Guess that’s all that really matters anyway.

Creamy Mac and Cheese

Adapted from The New York Times January 4, 2006

makes 6-8 servings (I usually double this recipe for parties)

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cottage cheese (small curd, not lowfat)
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated (recommend Cabot)
3/4 pound elbow pasta, uncooked (recommend the elbows with the ridges)

Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round baking pan and set aside.

In a food processor, add cottage cheese, mustard, cayenne, salt and pepper and pulse a few times. Then add milk and puree until smooth. Note: the original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon dry mustard, but I usually add a lot more. I like how the mustard gives the sauce an extra bite. Taste it before incorporating it into the pasta to see if it’s to your liking – I usually know it’s right when I can taste and smell the spices, not just the milk.

Reserve 1/2 cup of grated cheese for topping. Add uncooked pasta to greased pan, then pour cottage cheese and milk sauce over top. Add remaining grated cheese and mix to combine. Press down with spatula to flatten and ensure pasta is completely submerged in the sauce. (The original recipe called for 1/2 pound of pasta, but I usually add about 3/4 of the 1lb box so it isn’t too watery).

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese, and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. (It may look really soupy at this point, but it will all come together in the last half hour). Bake uncovered 30 minutes more until browned and delicious on top. Let cool about 15 minutes before serving (if you can stand the wait).