Essential Macaroni and Cheese

The food: Macaroni and Cheese

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The story:

Several years ago, I wrote a you-can’t-go-home-again short story that featured macaroni and cheese. It was about a single woman in her thirties who has quit a corporate marketing job to go to university fulltime and take a master’s degree in French literature. Midway through her degree, she starts to think she’s made a big mistake.

Over the Christmas holidays, she housesits for her parents in a posh part of town. At the local grocery store, she runs into an old childhood friend who has become a rich stay-at-home mom. The friend is happy to see her, and invites her to a holiday cocktail party she’s having that night, where there will be other childhood friends, all married, and, unlike the main character of the story, living again in the old neighbourhood.

The party doesn’t go well for the heroine – everyone has turned into their parents, and no one remembers the same things she does from their youth, or will admit to remembering them. She leaves early, goes back to her parents’ house, and makes herself some macaroni and cheese for dinner, but not the way her mother made it. She makes it her own way, a new way, a modern way.

In the story, I had her add new-fangled ingredients to her mac and cheese, to show how far she’d left behind the old neighbourhood and the conventional life choices.

These days, I make macaroni and cheese according to a 4 ingredient recipe that also represents a fresh approach to a traditional recipe.

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I devised this approach to capture what I think are the essential elements of the dish: noodles in a creamy, cheesy sauce, topped with crunchy browned breadcrumbs.

Essential Macaroni and Cheese

½ lb. short pasta of your choice, such as cavatappi
About 2 cups grated Swiss Gruyère cheese, expensive but deliciously nutty in flavour
½ to ¾ c. cream – I use 18%
½ to ¾ c. Panko breadcrumbs

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Undercook by 1 minute or so. Drain and pour into casserole dish. Use a shallow one to create more surface area for the breadcrumbs.
2. Pour in cream. It should come half to three-quarters of the way up the sides of the dish. Stir in all but 4 T. of grated cheese.
3. Mix breadcrumbs with remaining 4 T. of grated cheese. (You can mix in a bit of melted butter too if you want to be excessive). Arrange breadcrumbs in layer over top of noodles.
4. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes until bubbly. If top is insufficiently browned, broil for 2 minutes.
5. Eat with a dollop of honey mustard or chutney as a condiment, alongside a salad of dark greens such as arugula or spinach.
Serves 4.

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