Crazy easy mac & cheese

Oh, dear. I may have made a terrible mistake.

I discovered a laughably easy and decadently delicious macaroni and cheese recipe. It's so simple that I could make it once a week, but it's so rich that I would be on my deathbed if I repeated the routine for more than three weeks in a row, most likely.

Homemade macaroni and cheese IS the definition of comfort food, if you ask me. It's creamy, oozy, and crispy all at the same time. Its aroma is intoxicating, and its golden brown crust immediately makes me feel like a kid again. However, making it can be a pain. Usually, making it in the oven requires pre-boiling the pasta and waiting for it to cool. The sole slow cooker recipe I tried left me with a caked-on mess and gummy pasta. After that last experiment, I wrote off the idea of making it myself.

But then the weather turned cold and I my "comfort food" light started blinking. While browsing through the Smitten Kitchen's archives, I stumbled upon this recipe and thought, "Hmm, that might be worth a shot." And Lordy, it was. Bryan finished his meal with a happy sigh and a proclamation of, "This is a new family favorite!"

You will need:

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese (I used low-fat even though Deb said not to)

  • 2 cups milk (Deb said not skim milk, but I used 1/4 cup half and half the rest was skim)

  • 1 tsp dry mustard (skipped)

  • Pinch of nutmeg

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper (didn't measure)

  • 1 pound (yes, you read that correctly) sharp cheddar cheese, grated

  • 1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked (I used pipette)

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F and position the rack in the upper third of the oven. Spray a 2 or 2.5-quart baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

  2. Puree ricotta cheese, milk, mustard, nutmeg, and salt and pepper in a blender.

  3. Reserve 1/4 cup grated cheese for the topping but put the rest into a large bowl. Then add the dry pasta and the milk mixture and combine with a big spoon or spoonula.

  4. Pour into prepared baking dish, cover with a lid, and bake 30 minutes. Convince yourself that you're going to be okay and that you CAN wait that long.

  5. Remove the lid, stir mixture gently, and sprinkle with remaining cheese. (I added a little garlic powder here too.) Bake, uncovered, for another 30 minutes, until brown. You WILL be okay.

  6. Remove from the oven and let sit for at least 15 minutes so it can cool and solidify a bit. Now might be a good time to go for a jog to take your mind off the deliciousness that's waiting for you and to create some room for the insane richness you will soon experience.

Deb ends her recipe with, "Serve it with a g'normous green salad, in a feeble attempt at caloric balance, and wine, to remind yourself that you're a grown-up." I made it only halfway through my salad, and I skipped the wine, as it probably would have caused me to fall asleep before I finished my meal. I know some homemade macaroni and cheese recipes use a breadcrumb crust, but you really don't need it here. This recipe is all about the two stars of the show: pasta, and a hell of a lot of cheese.

Speaking of cheese, I sometimes make this with a small quantity of smoked cheese (smoked Gouda is fabulous) and then fill in the rest of the quantity with shredded cheddar. Smoked cheese is pungent enough that you only need a bit of it, but it does add a sultry depth to the dish!