With the blustering winds that brought chilly weather prematurely to Atlanta for the past week, I've been on a comfort food kick, stocking up my fridge with my favorite soups, stews, and most importantly with a big platter of macaroni and cheese. There's just nothing like homemade, and it's insanely simple to throw together. The secret is in the cheese, and this is a perfect time to get rid of the last bits left in the fridge [hence the name 'hodge podge', which then naturally gives me a good excuse to buy more!
Hodge Podge Macaroni + Cheese.
Béchamel Sauce [taken from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home]
[this will make more sauce than you need, which I like to reserve and use later in the week for a baked chicken dish or broccoli-cheese casserole]
3 TBsp unsalted butter
3 TBsp all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 TBsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp finely chopped thyme
pinch of cayenne pepper
My added ingredients:
1 tsp white truffle oil [optional, not everyone loves truffles- but I can't get enough!]
12-14 oz cheese, shredded and/or crumbled
[I happened to have sharp yellow cheddar and goat cheese in the fridge, so that's what I used, but I've literally used every cheese I can think of [with the exception of a blue or gorgonzola- they're too overpowering to mix with other cheeses]
1/2 lb elbow macaroni
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan [I use my Le Creuset cast iron braiser] over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 2 to 3 minutes; adjust the heat as needed so that the mixture does not brown. Whisk in the milk, lower the heat to keep the béchamel at a gentle simmer, and cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 2 cups, 30 to 40 minutes; move the whisk over the bottom and into the corners of the pan to be sure the béchamel doesn't burn. In the last 15 minutes of reducing the sauce, bring water to a boil and cook the elbow macaroni to al dente.
If you have a fine mesh strainer, strain the béchamel into another bowl, and then return it to the saucepan. Straining is optional since it helps to create a more velvety [not velveeta!] consistency. Add the truffle oil and cheese and whisk to combine. Add enough sauce to the macaroni [not all of it, as this is a double recipe for sauce] and you're done!
I sometimes like to add buttered bread crumbs to the top and bake off the macaroni in the oven for several minutes, but this time, I was starving and just dug right in. Yum.