Almost Like Mom's Macaroni and Cheese

This is a recipe food-writer friends have been passing around—I got it from Arthur Schwartz www.thefoodmaven.com (a passionate New Yorker), who got it from Suzanne Hamlin (an ultimate southerner). I am using it here because it’s close to my memory of my Detroit-born mom’s baked macaroni. The goal is crisp, not creamy. Use half-and-half instead of milk if you like it creamier. 

Olive oil spray or 11⁄2 tbsp. mild-flavored olive oil, plus 1 tbsp. for tossing later.

1⁄2 lb. small elbow macaroni

1 tbsp. salt

21⁄2 cups shredded or chopped firm cheese (Needless to say, my mother used Velveeta, but I make this with sharp cheddar and Emmentaler, half and half. Once I threw in some leftover Brie, a triple crème from France, and a half cup of crème fraîche and the result was celestial.)

Optional: 1⁄2 cup chopped baked ham or snipped crisp bacon

1 cup whole milk

11⁄2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

4 tbsp. fine dry bread crumbs

1⁄4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Spray the bottom and sides of a shallow 6-cup metal baking dish with olive oil spray. Bring several quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add tablespoon salt. Boil macaroni until just tender. Drain well. Immediately turn the macaroni into the baking dish (a flat baking pan gives more crispiness than a loaf pan). Use a pan that can go under the broiler later. Toss macaroni with tablespoon of olive oil. Then add cheese, optional ham or bacon, milk, salt, and freshly ground pepper and mix well.

Bake in the oven for 10 minutes, then remove from oven, close oven door, and stir. Taste for seasoning. Sprinkle fresh bread crumbs and grated Parmigiano on top. Bake another 15 minutes. If there is still some milk in the bottom, return to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes. If topping has not browned and crisped like Mom’s used to, stick it under the broiler (three or four inches away from heat) and brown, watching so it doesn’t burn.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish. 

note: I must confess I made this the other day with skim milk – since cholesterol was invented, I feel wanton using whole milk.  

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