My friend Peg Roblin Maroney, weathering the winter in Buffalo, has it right: "This abominable weather calls for the delicious cheesy comfort of a great mac and cheese,'' she said recently on Facebook.
It's March now, and while we might have had our fill of soups and stews and casseroles, the weather still calls for comfort. As I type this, the snowbanks are so high you can't see out of some windows. And it's snowing. Again. March brings "wintry mix."
This recipe, from the Canal House restaurant in New York City, is featured in Marian Burros' 2003 cookbook, "Cooking for Comfort: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes That Are as Satisfying to Cook as They Are to Eat'' and was included in The Post-Standard Food section some years back. A friend reminded me about it. She said her kids didn't care for it, but that she liked to make this mac and cheese for herself and her husband.
Canal House Macaroni and Cheese
1 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups low-fat milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
10 ounces extra-sharp aged white Cheddar, grated, plus 2 ounces, grated
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
8 ounces cavatappi or other corkscrew pasta
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs, toasted on the stove (optional)
Meanwhile, cook the cavatappi according to package directions until just al dente. Drain but do not rinse. Stir immediately into prepared cheese sauce until well blended. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
Spoon the mixture into a 9-by-9-inch buttered baking dish. Top with the remaining 2 ounces of Cheddar and the Parmigiano-Reggiano, then top with the toasted panko breadcrumbs (if using). I recommend using them. They add a nice bit of crunch.
Place oven rack in the bottom third of oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes, until the mixture is hot, bubbling throughout, and golden. Makes 4 generous main course servings.
Note: The finished casserole can be refrigerated before baking. To serve, let the dish return to room temperature and bake as directed.