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Cook by Numbers with Doug Trattner: Mac & cheese recipe

Don't just settle for mac and cheese out of the box. The real thing is surprisingly simple and straightforward.

CLEVELAND — Mac and cheese is delicious. And, thanks to those familiar blue boxes, mac and cheese is fast, cheap and easy. But mac and cheese out of a box pales in comparison to the real thing, made from scratch with firm pasta in a rich, creamy and flavorful cheese sauce. And, like all the recipes we’re tackling here for 3News, the process is surprisingly simple and straightforward.

The first step in making macaroni and cheese from scratch is to make a béchamel sauce. And the first step in making a béchamel sauce is to make a roux. A roux is equal parts fat and flour cooked together in a pan. Rouxs are a common way to thicken soups, chowders, sauces and casseroles.

We’re using 3 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, which we combine in a skillet over medium heat. The key is to cook the roux long enough to blend the ingredients and remove the raw taste from the flour, but not long enough to color the roux. We want to keep the color blond or pale straw.

After about 5 minutes of continuous stirring, we slowly stream in 3 cups of whole milk, whisking the entire time. When all the milk has been added and blended into a thin sauce, we can start adding the cheese. We are using 3 cups of shredded cheese in all, a mix of parmesan, swiss, gruyere and sharp cheddar. Use whatever cheeses you have on hand – even a little blue.

When all the cheese has been added and the sauce is creamy and smooth, taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. If you have nutmeg, add a few sprinkles.

Meanwhile, boil your pasta in plenty of salted water. You can opt for the classic elbow macaroni, but we are using thick corkscrew pasta, which really grabs and holds the sauce. Do not overcook the noodles. In fact, slightly undercook them so that they will be perfect after combining with the hot cheese sauce or reheating in a casserole.

Drain the pasta, add it to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. You can eat it straight out of the pan, but it’s even better arranged in a casserole, topped with buttered breadcrumbs and broiled until golden brown and crunchy.

Basic ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups assorted shredded cheeses
  • 1 pound dried pasta
  • Salt and pepper

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