Don't Seize the Cheese!

It's the dead of winter, the temperature is dropping, and nothing sounds better than macaroni and cheese.

I'm still trying to engage in a zen relationship with my fridge by using what's there, wasting less food, and thereby warding off the Oh-My-God-How-Long-Has-That-Been-In-There????!?! monster.  I hate cleaning out the fridge.  Hands down, it's my least favorite chore and I'd rather have a root canal and clean the toilet.  Anyway, in the spirit of Zen Fridge Living (I swear it's a thing) we had all kinds of bits of cheese that needed to be eaten. Cream cheese, blue cheese, Parmesan, name it.  Tuesday nights mean zero desire to dirty up nine dishes, so we're gonna make this a one pot meal on the stove top.

If you don't own a Dutchie pot (or Dutch oven/French oven/big ole cast iron pot) I highly suggest you invest in one. It's probably the most versatile cookware item I own and you will see it come up in posts often. I have a six quart one from Lodge and my more often used four quart Staub cocotte. I personally prefer the blonde enamel of the Lodge (and it sticks less) but the size of the Staub is perfect for a one-pot meal for two. 

My friend Lorenzo is the king of mac and cheese.  We have had many a discussion on the right technique for getting a creamy cheese sauce, to breadcrumb or not to breadcrumb, and your personal secret weapon in the perfect batch (my mom's is mustard, mine is cheese crackers we're gonna leave it at that.)  I'm dedicating this pot and this post to Zo! 

One Pot Mac and Cheese

Makes four large ramekins of pasta

  • 16 oz of tube or corkscrew pasta (I used penne, but fusilli or elbows are great)
  • 28 oz of milk - you'll have to eyeball it.
  • 12-16 oz cheese for sauce (we had Cotswold, Vermillion River Blue, Cream Cheese, Medium cheddar)
  • 6-8 oz of cheese for topping (I used shaved Parmesan)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 cup of crushed cheese crackers (I used White Cheddar Cheez-Its)
  • Fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of cornstarch dissolved in 1-2 tablespoons of milk

Bring the milk to a boil.  Add pasta and cook for about 6-8 minutes and shut the heat off.  Instead of draining the pasta, we'll make use of the starch in it for the cheese sauce.  

Side note:  The biggest problem most people have with making a cheese sauce is separation of the cheese into oil and solids when melting. This is called seizing (chocolate also seizes if handled improperly).  To keep your cheese from seizing, dissolve starch or flour in water/milk (a tablespoon or two will do), add that to the pot of hot milk and let it cool down for about ten minutes before adding the cheese.  You want the milk hot enough to melt the cheese, but not to separate it.  

Stir the cheese through the milk and pasta mixture and bring it to a medium heat.  Add pepper to taste and keep stirring until the cheese is incorporated throughout, reducing, and coating the pasta in a sauce.  Ladle into ramekins, sprinkle crushed cheese crackers on top, and parmesan or other shredded cheese on top of the crackers.  Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the cheese topping has browned.  Enjoy!