It’s December. So let the celebrations begin! My Christmas imagination is made up with movies and songs, just as my ideas of love and friendship. There are movies that, seen billions of times since my childhood, during Sunday mornings in pajamas, or during long afternoons spent in front of the fireplace, have helped to create my own Christmas atmosphere. Speaking about songs, the first that comes to my mind is Wham!’s Last Christmas (1984), closely followed by All I want for Christmas is you (1994) by Mariah Carey. Just two notes of one of these songs and I’m thrown into my snowy dreamy Christmas.
Speaking about movies instead, there is a scene that is etched in my memory, the best scene in terms of romance and Christmas spirit. The film is Untamed Heart (1993). The scene? Marisa Tomei wakes up and finds a beautiful Christmas tree in her room, at night surprise staged for her by the sweet Christian Slater. And then, since I was a child, if I have to find another movie that for me represents Christmas, I can not think of at anything else but Home Alone (1990). Inexplicably, since then, I really want to taste a properly done dish of macaroni and cheese, Kevin McCallister’s lonely Christmas Eve dinner, celebrated with one of the most famous quote from the movie:
Bless this highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale. Amen.
And so, driven by this wish, a few days ago I launched an appeal on Twitter. I asked all my contacts to show me their favorite recipes for macaroni & cheese, to bring out THE ULTIMATE RECIPE. The first to answer was Laura from Tavole e Fornelli, who linked me her recipe. Chiara from Fudgella suggested me to comb through The Pioneer Woman archive, the Mac & Cheese lovers paradise! Cecilia from One Vanilla Bean suggested me a delicious recipe for Patti La Belle. Rachel twitted what has become my motto: baked! and it must have some kind of a crunchy topping (chips, bread crumbs reg or panko). Finally, Alessio told me about his version, a special one with nigella seeds.
Putting together all the suggestions, you can draw up a set of rules to make the ultimate dish of macaroni & cheese:
- use a mix of cheeses, not just one kind, as to give texture and creamy consistency to the sauce. If possible, use cheddar… I could’n find it, so I used some leftover cheese I already had at home,
- the most popular spices to add to give extra flavor to the cheese sauce are: black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, nutmeg. Use them as you prefer, just one, a few or a mix of them,
- bake pasta in a baking dish, once you have sprinkled the surface with something to give crunchiness to the dish (bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese …).
So, this is my version of Macaroni & Cheese, from Home alone.
- butter, 1 knob (about 20 g)
- flour, 1 tablespoon (about 30 g)
- milk, 250 ml
- cream, 250 ml
- Emmenthal cheese, 200 g
- Morlacco del Grappa cheese, 100 g
- Grated Parmesan cheese, 5 tablespoons
- black pepper
- macaroni pasta, 500 g
- bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese to bake
Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat and add the flour, stirring with a whisk for a few minutes so that it loses its raw taste of flour. Pour in the milk and the cream, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent lumps. Now add the diced cheeses and grated Parmesan. Keep on stirring until completely melted. Add a mix of spices of your choice, taste, and only at this point season with salt.
In the meantime, cook the pasta and drain 2 minutes before it reaches its cooking time. Grease an ovenproof dish and pour the pasta, adding a a tablespoon of cooking water and the cheese sauce. Stir throughly so that each macaroni is well covered by cheese sauce, which must be quite liquid and very abundant. Sprinkle the surface with breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan and grill in preheated oven to 180°C for about 25 minutes. When the cheese sauce begins to simmer merrily from the edges of the pan and the surface is golden and crisp, remove from oven and serve immediately.
Tasting test. I try, day after day, to find unusual ingredients, refined processes and sensational recipes… and then, a dish of pasta and cheese has cast a spell on my family! This mac & cheese pan disappeared in the blink of an eye. At the umpteenth grumble: never a time that you make a local recipe, now an American one for pasta… why? followed a fast: no no, but this is good, please do it again! Do I need to say more?