Though this is technically a non-meat meal, somehow it gets full pass from the barbarians. I think it’s because it has pasta in it, and though I’ve never quite understood the redeeming qualities of pasta, they appear to be quite powerful. (Barbarians will even eat fish if it’s a pasta sauce. I’ll have to share that one with you, sometime.)
But this is a barbarians meal in more ways than one. It is also easy enough that the barbarians can actually make it themselves! Yessiree, it’s a red-letter recipe.
This is the first recipe I train people to cook on. At as young as 3 or 4 years old, kids can begin helping, grating cheese or stirring the sauce. By the time they’re seven, they need supervision and some instruction, but can do most of it themselves. By the time they’re 9 or 10, they’ve basically got it down pat. They need help remembering the exact amount of flour and butter to use, and someone else to transport the 3 gallons of water from sink to stove, but they can be left pretty much on their own.
And by the time they’re 18 or 19, and they suddenly find themselves on their own (albeit even just for a few days), they can fall back on this recipe to survive. The Martlet discovered pasta in the pantry, and made this meal from memory. He even managed to scale the recipe down to one pound, which he found made a sufficient lunch and dinner—half at either meal. And trust me, if he can do it, you can too. Cook it, I mean. I don’t know about eating half a pound of it in one sitting. At any rate, it’s a recipe bachelor’s could survive upon, and it’s good, which, for a bachelor’s recipe, is pretty shocking.
And so, without further ado, here’s the cast of characters:
For the cheese sauce, you have:
1 stick + 1 TB butter
1/2 + 1 TB flour
4 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 lbs. cheddar cheese (we like extra sharp)
Brilliant in it’s simplicity.
Once you’ve ascertained that you have the necessary ingredients to proceed, the first thing you’ll need to do is fill up a big pot with water. Preferable a 3-gallon pot. This is how you do it:
Then you realize taking pictures of water is fun. Look, I can catch the ripples of a water drop on camera!
Look at the reflections in the water!
Then you realize that everyone else is probably bored out of their minds to be looking at regular old water, and will probably hate you for taking up so much of their bandwidth with totally unhelpful pictures, so you throw the pot of water on the stove. Not literally. Just like this:
Only take a quick look, and then ignore it. Because a watched pot never boils, and it takes long enough for 3 gallons of water to come to a boil as it is. Even with a super-hot stove. Oh, and put a lid on it, too. It’ll take 60 million years longer without a lid.
Next, throw your butter in a pan and melt it:
Yes, you do have to throw it. I don’t go quite as far as the Barbarians and say that there are only two temperatures, off and high, but I do think it’s impossible to make lunch for a horde of hungry barbarians and gently and slowly place a stick of butter in the pan. Just chuck it in there.
Much to the horror of the barbarians, I actually have the heat on low, because while the butter is melting I grate the cheese.
And, to their further and continued horror, I grate it by hand instead of the food processor. It makes less dishes. And it’s quieter. And you know what? There’s usually enough ruckus going on without making some more of my own.
And, which would probably make them border on outrage, I get all artsy-fartsy with the camera instead of hurrying up and feeding them already!
Ok, all done tormenting people. Except maybe for those who are getting sick of cheese pictures. This is what 1 1/2 lbs. of cheese looks like after it’s been grated. By hand.
By now, your butter is probably thoroughly melted, and in great need of attendance. Dump in your flour:
Since the light shines from behind me, it casts everything on the stove into shadow, and makes it really hard to take pictures. A flash washes everything out. Maybe I should use a flashlight.
Stir it all together and let it get nice and bubbly. I let it cook for a minute or two after it’s all mixed together.
Here’s a closer-upper picture. If I remember correctly, I cheated and lightened it in a photo program.
Nextly, you need to add in the milk.
Traditionally, you’re usually told to pour in the milk slowly, stirring constantly. But actually, I have a higher likelihood of getting lumps that way. I just dump it all in at once. At first, you’ll freak out and think you have lumps:
But really, the coldness of the milk has just made the butter harden, and when it warms up, you’ll have a thick, lump-free white-sauce. My take on it is that the butter coats the flour—when the flour binds to flour in the beginning, you get lumps. If you add the milk slowly, you can “rinse” the butter off the flour, and the flour will bind to itself. If you dump it in all at once, the butter “freezes up” around the flour, and when it melts again, it releases the flour evenly into the milk. So no lumps. (I used the flash here. My kitchen isn’t really that dark, honest.)
Just keep stirring that sauce. If you’re a barbarian, you’ll have the heat as high as it can go. If you have a helper, you can do that. If you don’t you, probably want the heat on medium, and you’ll have to keep stirring it in between the following steps.
You need to put a strainer in your sink:
It better be a big one, because you’re going to pour 3 lbs. of cooked pasta into it.
Here I am playing Jackson Pollock:
Here I am enlargening to show texture, which, as everyone knows, is an crucial to telling people what your food is like.
You’re bored out of your mind, aren’t you? Don’t forget to stir the white sauce.
In the strictest sense, this next part isn’t part of making Macaroni and Cheese, but if you don’t do it, you stand in danger of being lynched by an angry mob. Or at least tarred and feathered.
You need to heat up some spicy tomatoes for people to ladle over their macaroni and cheese. You can use your favorite kind. We used to use “Mexican Stewed Tomatoes”, but that was discontinued. Now we use either tomatoes with jalapeÃƒÂ±os or green chiles, or a can of each.
Let’s take a closer look:
And a closer look. . .this one’s kind of Pollock-y, too, isn’t it?
Enlargened to show texture. Ewww, gross!
Look, it’s boring making something I’ve had memorized since I was nine. And it’s boring taking pictures of such mundane things, and it’s boring getting all the pictures ready for the internet. I amuse myself where I can.
Dump your tomatoes in a pan, like so:
Some of us think the squishy tomatoes are a really gross texture, even if we like the flavor. So we scoop up the juice and leave the tomatoes behind. But then there isn’t enough juice to go around. So I rinse out the can with a little bit of water, which gives me the last bit of flavor in the can and more liquid in the pot.
Put that whole mess on the stove, too.
By now, your white sauce is probably getting all thick and bubbly.
Isn’t that a horrible picture? Almost not even worth posting.
Now add in your grated cheese:
Stir it in. . .
. . .keep stirring. . .
. . .and stirring. . .
. . .Okey-dokey, your cheese sauce is finished!
Probably at this point, the water is boiling furiously, like this:
So then you need to add in your three pounds of pasta, like this:
These are elbows, but you can actually use any shape you like. The Martlet and some others much prefer spaghetti, which I think is kind of gross. I like shells, but the Cross Moline thinks that’s gross, because it “holds too much of the cheesy sauce”. I don’t think that’s possible, myself.
Make sure you stir the pasta, or it will all stick together and fuse into a solid piece.
When the pasta stops feeling so hard and solid against your spoon, you have to start fishing pieces out to see if it’s done. When it is, it’ll look like this,
which isn’t very informative. You want the pasta to be totally non-crunchy, but not anywhere near squishy or soggy. Chewy is about what you’re going for, and it’s what some people refer to as al dente. (Which means “to the tooth” and makes no sense at all, unless you’re Italian.)
When it is done, dump it in your strainer, like so:
Then dump the pasta back into the empty pot,
and pour the cheese sauce over it.
and you’re done.
By this point, your tomatoes should be hot, too.
So now you can call all your barbarians, and tell them the most wonderful meal of their lives is about to commence, so come eat. Don’t worry about being held to that claim, because all they will hear is “Food”.
Here’s what it looks like plain:
Here’s what it looks like with tomatoes and freshly ground pepper:
Here’s what it looks like enlarged to show texture:
Food. Can’t beat that.