No words can describe this masterpiece melding of cheeses and noodles. The lovely Miss Mary Otto introduced us to this fantastic recipe at a Halloween party years ago and it has been made over...and over...and over again in our house since then.
It is one of those recipes that everyone clamors for the recipe. I really have a difficult time calling it macaroni and cheese but I suppose it really is but I promise you...this recipe delivers and you won't make it just one time! I want to go make it right now, it's that good!
This is the ultimate in comfort food, which seems to be the theme lately around here.
The Great American Macaroni & Cheese
(via Mary Otto Pasta & Co. By Request, 1991, Marcella Rosene)
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 pound mozzarella cheese, crumbled/grated
3 cups milk (whole, 2%, or 1%, I think I even used half & half once)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup flour
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup freshly grated romano cheese
2 teaspoons Tabasco or Jardine’s brand Texas Champagne (I have also used Frank's.)
1/3 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/8 pounds fresh rigatoni (Note from MO – I use a full pound of Barilla brand dried rigatoni. Note from me- Me too.)*
¾ teaspoon chili powder or hot paprika, to top
¾ cup milk (whole, 2%, or 1%) (don't miss this part like I did the first time!)
Dash of salt, added to taste after mixing the cheeses
Optional: Add cooked, chopped bacon to take this recipe over the moon!
1. Combine grated cheddar and mozzarella and set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, heat milk until near boiling. Remove from heat.
3. Melt butter in a heavy pan large enough to hold the pasta after it is cooked. (It will take at least a 14-inch sauté pan or a large casserole that can take direct heat.) When foam from butter recedes, remove from heat, add flour, and mix well.
4. Return to medium-low heat, and, stirring occasionally, simmer for 2 - 3 minutes to cook, but do not brown the flour. Gradually stir in hot milk. Raise heat to medium-high and continue stirring until mixture is smooth and thick – about 5 minutes. Add parmesan and romano cheeses. Whisk until smooth. Add Tabasco and white pepper and blend.
5. Cook rigatoni in boiling salted water about 4 minutes. (It will be underdone, but will finish cooking later and this will help prevent it from breaking apart.) Thoroughly drain rigatoni and fold it into the béchamel. If you prefer to add a dash of salt, do so now.
6. If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
7. The original recipe calls for layering the one-half of the rigatoni mixture into a 9-inch by 13-inch pan. Top with one-half of the grated cheese mixture and bechamel sauce. Repeat layers. Top with chili powder, sprinkled evenly over top. However, I have come to prefer mixing all the cheeses with the bechamel sauce and then mixing this with the rigatoni prior to adding to the baking dish as it coats the noodles, leaving no rigatoni uncovered from the cheese mixture.
If you are not baking immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze at this point.
8. When ready to bake, drizzle the ¾ cup milk over the dish. Bake for approximately 1 hour. If frozen, add at least 20 minutes to baking time. The dish should be rusty brown on top. Should it appear to be browning too fast, cover with foil for part of cooking time. Be sure to check for doneness in the very center of the dish.
Serves 8 - 10
*(Do not substitute a smooth tube or elbow macaroni – you won’t get the same results.)