~ Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese ~
Macaroni and cheese has got to be near the very top of the American comfort food list. This ooey-gooey irresistable mixture of unpretentious pasta and cheese has earned a beloved place on tables ranging from your grandmother's kitchen to college dorms to gourmet restaurants. I'm sure there is a percentage of you who think it was invented by Kraft foods (their first version was introduced in 1937), but food historians believe it had its humble beginning in the kitchen of Thomas Jefferson, who returned from a trip to Paris with a macaroni maker/press which he bought in Italy. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson, who had an affinity for cheese and Italian food, began serving macaroni and cheese in the White House. Jefferson's cousin, Mary Randolph, published her recipe in 1824 in The Virginia Housewife, considered by some to be the very first American cookbook (which I just happen to have a copy of). Some 200 or so years later, while the basic recipe has changed very little, many Americans spend a great deal of time trying to "tweek" their own recipe to perfection. I am one such American:
In the late 1980's, while watching one of the the morning TV shows (most likely Good Morning America because I am a true-blue Charlie Gibson fan), I watched an interview with then White House Excecutive Chef Henry Haller. Chef Haller was promoting his new book: The White House Family Cookbook. It was fascinating. Chef Haller, who served five administrations as White House Executive Chef for over 20 years, told two stories:
~ Shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected to office, he was invited to visit President Carter at the White House. The outgoing President Carter, trying to explain to the President Elect what life in the White House is like, said "don't worry about the house, the house runs itself". One of Carter's aides chimed in (with regards to why the White House staff remains so constant over the years), "nobody could learn in four years what they all do over there"!
~ Ronald Reagan loved macaroni & cheese and the White House kitchen made it exactly the way he liked it: spiked with dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Like most presidents, Ronald Reagan often worked erratic hours, sometime into the very early morning. Twenty-four/seven (24/7), the White House kitchen had macaroni & cheese ready and waiting for him as a snack or a quick meal. Even when the President was recovering in the hospital from his gunshot wound, the White House staff was frequently requested to send macaroni & cheese to the hospital!
Needless to say, I bought Chef Haller's book, which is beautifully written (not to mention a great addition to my 5,000 volume cookbook research library). I already had a macaroni & cheese recipe that my sons and husband loved, but it was lacking two of Chef Haller's ingredients: dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Well, the addition of those two ingredients to my original recipe immediately turned my Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese into my family's favorite macaroni & cheese. While I can't admit to agreeing with our charming former President Reagan's politics, from a mac & cheese standpoint, he gets my vote!
1 pound tubular pasta, or a combination of tubes, shells and spirals
4 ounces butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 pounds grated sharp white cheddar cheese
12 ounces grated Italian fontina cheese
1 tablespoon Colman's dry English mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 jumbo eggs, at room temperature
2 cups heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons white pepper
4 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
4 ounces grated provolone cheese
8 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
no-stick cooking spray
~ Step 1. Once the pasta is cooked, this recipe will go together very quickly, so be sure to do the following prep work prior to cooking the pasta:
A. Grate the cheddar and fontina cheeses and thoroughly toss/mix them together in a large food storage bag. Grate the mozzarella and provolone cheeses and thoroughly toss/mix them together in a second food storage bag. Grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
B. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the cream. Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth and uniform in color.
~ Step 2. Cook the pasta. In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil. In the case of making macaroni & cheese, I do not add salt to my pasta water. Note: Both the cheese and the cream mixture contain salt and experience has taught me that adding salt to the water results in an overly salted mac & cheese. Add the pasta to the water and give it a brief stir. Adjust heat to a rapid simmer and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente, about 9 minutes. Do not overcook (remember the pasta is going to cook a second time in the oven, so error on the side of undercooking)! Transfer to a colander to drain. Do not rinse pasta!
Place the butter in the still warm stockpot and return pot to the still warm stovetop. While the butter is melting, give the colander a few good shakes to make sure as much of the water as possible is removed from the pasta. Add the pasta to the melted butter (on the still warm stovetop). Using a large spoon, gently toss the pasta until it is coated in the butter and no butter remains puddled in the bottom of the pot. This will take about 1 minute.
Gently fold the cheese into the butter coated pasta. Be gentle so you don't break up the pasta while you're folding. I find it easiest to position my spoon at the bottom of the pot and lift the pasta up into the grated cheese to fold/mix it.
Now at this point I like to let the pasta sit in the pot about 15-20 minutes. Every 5 minutes or so, I give it another brief stir. This gives the pasta a chance to absorb some of the moisture prior to baking.
Evenly distribute the grated mozzarella and provolone mixture over the top. Evenly sprinkle the grated Parmigian-Reggiano over all.
~ Step 6. Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 40 minutes. Mac & cheese will be golden brown and bubbly around the edges. Because some oven temperatures do vary slightly, if your mac & cheese begins to get too brown, loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top during the last 5-10 minutes of baking.
Remove from oven and allow to rest about 10-15 minutes just prior to serving steaming hot:
Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese: Recipe yields 12-16 servings.
Special Equipment List: cheese grater; 2 large food storage bags; whisk; 8-quart stockpot; colander; large spoon; 3-quart or 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; aluminum foil (optional)
Cook's Note: Macaroni and cheese can be prepared and baked up to three days in advance of serving it and refrigerated. Return completely to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and reheat gently in the microwave. Do the same with individusl "scoops"/portions. Also, after adding the dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce to this recipe many years ago, I have never made any more changes to the basic recipe. That being said, on occasion, I have been known to add some crisply fried and chopped bacon to the mixture (about 1 cup), stirring it in just after the cream mixture. For an easy way to prepare bacon with no mess, read my recipe ~ Crispy Oven-Roasted Bacon ~ found in categories 9, 15 & 20!
Extra Cook's Note: If it is your family's tradition to serve macaroni and cheese at your Thanksgiving feast, you just might want to wow 'em with this version this year! Gobble, gobble!!!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)