INCOMPARABLE 4 cheese macaroni and cheese. Few ingredients, but tastes absolutely sublime!
Bechamel sauce is what makes this so special. It is so very simple to make and is a building block for many a tasty recipe.
Use any four cheeses you want. They can be as mild, or as sharp or as adventurous as you feel. Don't be shy; Experiment! I strongly recommend avoiding packages of pre-shredded cheeses as the flavor isn't as fresh. Use 'good' cheese and leave the Velveeta and powdered parmesan on the grocery shelf!
This macaroni and cheese is worthy of any dinner party as well as being ideal for family gatherings. (You certainly won't have leftovers!) Serve with halved grape tomatoes strewn across the top.
If I had a signature dish, this would be it. (And my "Potato Salad For Those Who Hate Potato Salad".) Anyone who's eaten this mac and cheese once will keep asking you to make it even though it will never be the same twice!
If you know your way around a kitchen you can get this in the oven in 20 minutes. If you're 101 in the kitchen, please don't be put off. It is NOT difficult to make this, but your prep time may be extended.
Put your water on to boil. You can be working on the bechamel sauce and cheese while the pasta cooks. Cook your pasta to a hard al dente (it will finish cooking in the oven).
Bechamel sauce: In a small saucepan, heat the milk to just below a simmer
In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt the butter over a low heat until it bubbles. Do not brown it.
Add the flour to the butter and cook for a few minutes. (This cooks away the flour-y taste) Stir constantly and don't let it discolor.
Remove the butter from the heat and gradually whisk in the milk.
Return the pan to the heat and stir until it gets thick and smooth. Cook for about 20 minutes, uncovered. (Remember to keep the heat low and give it an occasional stir as you're prepping the cheese. Now is a good time to turn the oven on to preheat at 425)
Cut your cheeses into matchsticks. Or crumble them if they're that kind of cheese! Feel free to bust out your food processor to shred the cheese if you're making a double batch as I often do. This mac and cheese IS that popular!
TIP: I prefer to layer the cheeses with the pasta in order to experience different flavors as I eat the mac and cheese. If you wish to do that, keep your cheeses separated. This results in a more 'adult' and piquant dish. If you want to mix all of the cheeses together, you can do that too; your finished dish will be no less delicious, it just has a more even, blended taste.
The bechamel sauce should be ready now! Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste
NOW WE'RE ALMOST READY TO ASSEMBLE AND POP IN THE OVEN! If you will be layering your cheeses, at this time add just one of the cheeses to the bechamel sauce and continue to heat until the cheese has melted. (I usually pick the sharpest/most pungent cheese. For example, if I am using blue cheese, that makes an absolutely amazing sauce. Or add the sharp cheddar, or parmesan... whatever the strongest flavored cheese you have is, that's the one to add to the sauce!) If you will be blending your cheeses together, add 2 or 3 ounces of your cheeses to the sauce. It doesn't need to be precise. Just drop a handful in!
Butter a casserole dish with 1 ounce of the remaining butter
Stir together the pasta and bechamel sauce
If you're going to mix all the cheeses together, put the pasta in the casserole dish and toss the cheeses in. Proceed to step 15.
If you're going to layer the flavors: Put a layer of the pasta in the bottom of the casserole and layer one of your cheeses on top. Add another layer of pasta and add the next cheese. Finish with a hard cheese that browns nicely (like parmesan). (I often use parmesan on top in addition to my other cheeses and make a FIVE cheese version). Dot the remaining butter on top and pop in the oven.
Bake for about 10 minutes and brown the top under your broiler before serving.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you're going to make your bechamel sauce a little ahead of time, dot butter on the top of the finished sauce and cover with plastic wrap. It will not store in the fridge or freezer.