Mac & Cheese

There is nothing more comforting to me than a big plate of homemade Mac & Cheese. If you’re a hungry nursing mom with a hankering for something satisfying, this should do the trick. For those who have to give up dairy I’m really sorry to say that there is no substitution for the real thing here-“cheese” is in the title after all. But if you are wheat-free do not despair! You can use gluten-free penne (usually rice based) and it comes out just fine.

I never realized how little I could accomplish in a day until my son was born. One of the biggest challenges to cooking with a new baby in the house is that you cannot complete all the steps to a recipe at once. Inevitably someone has to be nursed, changed, held in the middle of prep work. Fortunately, you can cook the pasta ahead of time, like in the morning, and set it aside for later.  You can grate the cheese ahead of time or use pre-grated cheese such as cheddar or mozzarella (or a combo of the two). You can assemble the whole thing and keep it in the refrigerator for a few hours before putting it in the oven. Best of all, if you don’t eat the whole dish in one sitting, wrap it up in individual servings and put it in the freezer.

1 lb of penne

4 cups milk

4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

6 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp paprika

salt & pepper to taste

12 oz Gruyere cheese grated (4 cups)

4 oz sharp cheddar grated

optional: one bunch swiss chard

Do ahead:

-Cook the penne according to the directions. Set aside and let cool.

-If you are going for the swiss chard option: remove any thick stems, steam the chard until wilted-about 5 minutes. It should change to a dark green color. Put it in a food processor and pulse until the chard is finely chopped. Drizzle a little olive oil in the final pulses to give it a thicker consistency.

Preheat the oven to 350

Bring the milk just to a boil in a heavy saucepan and set aside.

When the milk is hot melt the butter in another heavy saucepan. Add the flour and whisk over low for 5 minutes. Do not brown. Remove from heat.

Add the hot milk to the flour mixture and whisk well. Add ½ tsp of the paprika, season with salt and pepper, return to the pan to heat. Cook over medium heat whisking constantly until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes.

Add to the penne and toss well.

Butter a 13x9x2” flameproof baking dish and fill it evenly with the penne sauce mixture.

If you choose to add the greens, fill the baking dish halfway, add the pureed layer of greens spreading it across the whole pan, add the remaining penne.

Distribute the grated cheese evenly over the penne, sprinkle the remaining paprika with a little pepper.

Place the dish on a baking sheet and bake until hot, 20-25 minutes.

Place under the broiler for 3 minutes or until slightly browned.

Adapted from the New Basics Cookbook

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