Crunchy leaves underfoot, warm sweaters, cool morning breezes, hot cocoa and comfort foods. Like macaroni and cheese. Everything about autumn just makes me happy.
Growing up, we made our macaroni and cheese from a box. Our creative mom often dressed it up with a list of “mix-ins” that we would stir in on occasion (more about those in a minute). It was easy to make, budget friendly, and comfortably familiar.
But then everything changed.
After living for a year and a half in Italy and invaluable tutorials by Italian mammas in the art of well-prepared pasta, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat the neon orange glowing stuff when I came back home. On special occasions I’d slave in the kitchen to make the homemade macaroni and cheese I was craving, but who has time for that?
Happily, I ran across this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen at the perfect time. It’s creamy, delicious, cozy, and comforting food, perfect for autumn afternoons. And it’s easily made right on the stovetop!
Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Shared with permission from America’s Test Kitchen
Serves 4 as a main dish or 6-8 as a side dish
Toasted Bread Crumbs
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, from French or Italian bread
A pinch of table salt
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
(or use crumbled crackers instead for a quick and easy bread crumb topping)
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
2 large eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
¼ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
½ pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, American cheese, or Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 3 cups)
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix bread crumb ingredients together in small baking pan. Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes; set aside.
- Meanwhile, mix eggs, 1 cup of the evaporated milk, pepper sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, pepper, and mustard mixture in small bowl; set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat 2 quarts water to boil in large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and macaroni; cook until almost tender, but still a little firm to the bite. Drain and return to pan over low heat. Add butter; toss to melt.
- Pour egg mixture over buttered noodles along with three-quarters of the cheese; stir until thoroughly combined and cheese starts to melt. Gradually add remaining milk and cheese, stirring constantly, until mixture is hot and creamy, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately topped with toasted bread crumbs.
As a bonus, here’s a little hint from those Italian mammas I was telling you about. When you cook the pasta, you want it to be more al dente (firm) than usual. The pasta is going to continue to cook while you mix in the cheese and milk. As a result, if you boil it initially until it’s perfectly tender, it’ll be mushy by the time it’s done.
And nobody deserves mushy pasta.
While this delicious recipe tastes amazing all on its own, for something a little bit different, try mixing in one of these family favorites!
- Crumbled bacon
- Peas – the frozen kind, not canned. Please.
- Tomatoes (fresh or canned)
- Pickled jalapenos
- Sliced brats or sausages
And then I smile. . .
because the truth is, sometimes I really just need to snuggle inside on a rainy autumn day. I need to read a good book, glancing up occasionally at the colorful leaves outside my window. I need a bowl of my favorite comfort food. This macaroni and cheese, perhaps.
Maybe somebody you know could use some too.
Maybe that somebody is you.