I’m sharing a very special recipe today. It seems apropos given the nature of today…because I’m IN LOVE with this recipe. I want it to be my Valentine.
This is the mac I grew up with, and whenever I have it, I’m instantly transported to my childhood. It just tastes like HOME to me. It is seriously good and seriously simple. Good ol’ fashioned comfort food.
My mom has been making this dish for as long as I can remember. She rarely strays from the recipe as it is listed below. It doesn’t need ANY frills or embellishments. It is absolute perfection just the way it is. My sisters, father, and I have all proclaimed this as the best mac there is (and can often be found fighting over the leftovers). It’s what we all think of when we think “mac & cheese.” That’s really saying something, too, given the amount of mac & cheese my husband and I consume. We’re obsessed. It’s a comfort food go-to for us when we’re needing some food love (and probably his most requested dish in general). I have made about 20 different variations of mac & cheese (including this crazy-good version)…and my mom’s definitely stands out as a favorite.
I made this batch last week and sadly was only able to eat the portion you see here in the photographs. My husband HOUSED the rest of the pan. Did I mention that he LOVES mac & cheese? Direct quote from him as he inhaled a plate of it: “This mac is legit, nom nom nom, OMG, so good, nom nom nom, absolutely delicious. I need more…”
One of my favorite things about this recipe (aside from the incredible flavor), is the simplicity of it. It doesn’t get any easier than this, guys! As simple as it is, there are a few key components to this recipe. The first being the ONION. Please, I beg of you, do not skip the onion! It sort of melts away into the sauce and adds such a crazy-good flavor that holds up perfectly with all the sharp cheese. Which brings me to number two. The cheese. Use the sharpest cheddar you can find for this recipe. It’s the only cheese in the dish, so it needs to be good. And third. Take the time to warm the milk before adding it to the roux. This is a good trick whenever you are making a bechamel (or white sauce). My mom taught me this years ago. It helps the sauce thicken without forming lumps. You’ll end up with a creamier sauce in the end.
And that’s it! The result is creamy, cheesy, and super decadent. Total comfort food. And for me, it conjures up happy, fond memories of family and childhood weeknight dinners huddled around our tiny kitchen table.
I love how food can do that.
Thanks, Mom. For this. And many other things.
Mom’s Mac & Cheddar (makes 6 servings)
3 cups dry macaroni
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk, warmed
1 lb extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 cups shredded)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook the macaroni in salted boiling water until el dente. Drain and set aside.
Melt butter in a large oven-safe braising or casserole dish and add the onion. Sauté until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes.
Add the flour and stir until well distributed; cook for 1 minute. Slowly add the warm milk, whisking constantly. Cook until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.
Stir in the cheese (saving a large handful for the top) and whisk until melted and smooth. Turn off the heat and add the cooked pasta. Toss to combine everything, even out the top, and then sprinkle the remaining cheese over everything.
Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until bubbly and golden. If desired, broil the top to get a deeper brown cheese crust (I do this because I love the crusty bits!). Allow to cool slightly and then serve.