It’s National Mac n Cheese Day! You know what to do: Break out the box.

We’ve all done it—maybe doctored it with a little real cheese, added some spices, given it our own “special touch” so we can fool ourselves we’re serving something homemade to the gaping mouths at the table.

But at my house we celebrate mac n cheese day all the time. Could be Christmas Eve or Day, could be New Year’s, could be a birthday dinner, mac n cheese and champagne is a traditional Malouf meal.

I make it according to a recipe from a dear friend’s cookbook. Paula Lambert founded Mozzarella Company in Dallas in 1982. She’s won dozens of awards, now makes more than 30 artisanal cheeses and published several cheese cookbooks. The mac’n’cheese is from her first book, The Cheese Lover’s Cookbook.

And yes, she has her own secret ingredient too.

Here’s how she—we—make it. I’ve made it so often that I’ve made my own tweaks, as every cook should.

 

Uptown Get-Down Mac n Cheese:

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

3 Tbsp. unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk or half-and-half, heated

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. Tabasco (I always use a little more)

4 1/2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 generous cup)

Melt the butter until the foam subsides, add the flour and whisk over low heat. Slowly add the heated milk and and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 – 4 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 – 4 minutes, until it thickens. Add the seasonings and cheese, stirring until melted. Cover and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 3-quart oven-proof dish.

1 lb. elbow macaroni

1 tsp. salt

2 tbsp butter

1/4 tsp minced garlic

8 oz sharp chedd ar shredded 2 cups

SECRET INGREDIENT: ****8 oz. Velveeta cut into 1/2 inch cubes****

1/2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/2 tsp. seasoning salt

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the salt and the macaroni. Cook until very al dente, drain and mix with butter. (Note: I often do this ahead, rinse it in cold water to stop the cooking, toss it with garlic and olive oil instead of butter. Then it can wait an hour or so, covered.)

Toss the pasta with the sauce, then layer pasta and grated cheddar in the buttered dish. Finally, poke in the cubes of Velveeta at various points. Cover with buttered crumbs mixed with that last bit of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake until browned and bubbly.

DISCLOSURE: I’m not a cheddar purist; I use whatever bits of cheese (except blue) I have that are too ugly to serve on a cheese tray. I don’t use buttered crumbs, I use pulverized Ritz crackers (it takes about two tubes) and spread them over the top, then dot with butter.

BUT: I never make macaroni and cheese if I do not have the secret ingredient.

Serve with cold Champagne!!!!

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