Southern Mac ’n’ Cheese

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    6

    servings

Appears in

The Glory of Southern Cooking

The Glory of Southern Cooking

By James Villas

Published 2007

  • About

Anybody who doubts that macaroni and cheese has a Southern pedigree need only be directed to any cafeteria from Virginia to Alabama to observe the heaping spoonfuls being plopped on virtually every plate that passes down the line. History has not recorded whether this was the dish Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he sent an emissary to Naples for a macaroni machine, but it’s for sure that by the mid-nineteenth century, the casserole was evolving from layered macaroni and cheddar cheese baked with an egg-and-milk custard to a much more elaborate production involving different cheese sauces and all sorts of seasonings. Today, Southerners still argue whether mac ’n’ cheese should be made with a custard or a sauce, as well as whether it is correct to bake it in a cast-iron skillet or casserole. Personally, I couldn’t care less, as long as the dish contains plenty of cheese, is never allowed to overcook and dry out, and is served piping hot. To give the casserole a bit of zest, add about ½ teaspoon of dry mustard.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • cups milk, heated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • cups grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ pound elbow macaroni
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Method

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a -quart casserole and set aside.

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat, add the flour, and whisk 1 minute. Whisking constantly, gradually add the milk till the mixture bubbles and thickens. Remove the pan from the heat, add the salt, nutmeg, two peppers, and cheddar cheese, and stir till the cheese melts completely. Set aside.

Fill another large saucepan with water, bring to a boil, add the macaroni, and cook according to package directions. Drain the macaroni well in a colander.

Stir the drained macaroni into the cheese sauce till well blended, scrape into the prepared casserole, and sprinkle Parmesan over the top. Bake till golden brown on top, about 30 minutes, and serve piping hot.