October 30, 2011

Baked Macaroni and Cheese with Caramelized Onions

There are few things more comforting and delicious that a really good macaroni and cheese. Annie's (in the orange box) is my standby. I'm not sure I would have survived college without it. But when I want something a little heartier and even more delicious, I turn to my mother's tried and true recipe, which I think she made about every other night for a few years in there when I refused to eat anything else (those were about years four, five, and six). My mother's recipe starts with a traditional (and easy to remember) 1:1:1 roux (that's 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of flour, one cup of milk). But the recipe below is not my mother's mac and cheese. Sorry mom. I have found something better. Something more indulgent. Something that involves caramelized onions.

The recipe below if also endlessly customizable. You can swap out all or part of the cheddar for any other kind of cheese. You can change the spices. You can skip the bread crumbs. You could add the cheese directly the roux, let it melt, and then serve over the pasta without baking. You can add sausage (fake or real). You probably can't magically transform this into something low fat and low carb. There is no way around it. This is an extremely indulgent dinner. My favorite kind!

I served it with sautéed broccoli. To counteract the richness of the macaroni and cheese, I went with a salty and a bit spicy. Chop the broccoli. Heat up a skillet with two tablespoons of olive oil and a few drops of sesame oil. Add the broccoli, a few teaspoons of soy sauce, and a generous dash of spicy red pepper flakes. Toss to coat, put on the lid and cook for a few minutes, just until the broccoli just begins to soften. I think it's best al dente.

It wouldn't have occurred to me to write about the macaroni and cheese here, since, you know, it is not dessert, but my friends who came over for dinner the night I made this pointed out that it had also come from the evening oven. So there you have it, Franklin and Madison (who was one of those dinner guests) have boldly entered the world of savory baking. More to come.

- Franklin

Baked Macaroni Cheese with Caramelized Onions
Adapted from James Beard's American Cookery
Serves 4
Total Time: 1 hour
Sweetness Factor: 1; Indulgence Factor: 9; Difficulty Factor: 4; Chance We'd Make it Again: 11.

2 large sweet onions
1 pound penne
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1.5 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
two sprigs fresh rosemary
2 slices sourdough bread (lightly buttered)
1/2 pound sharp or extra sharp cheddar
A bit of parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Thinly slice the onions and put them in a saute pan over medium-low heat (without oil). Let them saute, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes, until they start wilt and look more translucent. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil, lower the heat, put a lid on, and let them go, stirring occasionally to make sure they aren't burning, and adding a little bit of water if they are starting to stick to the bottom of the pan, for about a half hour. They should turn out translucent, soft, sweet, and delicious.

While the onions are cooking, make your pasta per package instructions. While the water is boiling, grate the cheese, destem the rosemary and dice it, and butter and toast the bread. Once the bread is toasted, turn it into bread crumbs with a cuisinart (you could also just dice it). Once the pasta is on, preheat the oven to 350 and start the roux. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir until dissolved. Heat up the milk in a separate saucepan, or in the microwave, and then add it to the butter flour mixture, whisking the whole time. Turn up the heat to medium and continue to whisk until the mixture starts to thicken and begins to boil (don't let it come to a rolling boil). This should take about five minutes, if it is taking too much longer, try turning up the heat.

Once the sauce is thick, turn the heat down to low and add all the spices (the rosemary, red pepper, and mustard powder). Lightly butter a 2.5-3 quart casserole dish. The pasta should be done by now, drain it. Add the ingredients to the casserole dish in layers. Pasta first, then roux, then cheese. Repeat. Repeat. Spread the bread crumbs out on top, and the grate a little bit of parmesan over the top. Bake for about 25 minutes until it starts to brown on top and the cheese looks melty!

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