Very typically found in the Bahamas, and in other parts of the Southern United States, this style of macaroni and cheese bakes up firm, and can be cut into squares for serving. This is not the creamy kind, each serving piece comes out like a block.
There are so many variations in recipes for macaroni and cheese, but this one I really like – not only because it reminds me of eating out in the Bahamas – but it bakes-up nicely and holds over well for a picnic or large crowd; it is also very kid-friendly.
Cooked macaroni is layered with shredded cheddar cheese (or hoop cheese – the kind with the red wax coating) and then a white cream sauce is poured over before baking. As it bakes, the white sauce sets up and holds all the ingredients together tightly.
A good Italian brand of dried elbow macaroni will have the best consistency; I usually use elbow macaroni. Undercook your pasta slightly, which will finish cooking in the oven (about 1 to 2 minutes less than the package directions say to cook) then drain & rinse it under cold water. This stops the cooking and washes off the excess starch. I never rinse any other pasta except for when I am making macaroni and cheese. You might think that starch would be useful in further thickening the casserole, but it isn’t; as it bakes, that extra starch expands and lends a mealy texture to your sauce.
The pasta will finish cooking as it bakes. The sauce will bubble, seeping into the hollows of your macaroni. The white sauce congeals and firms-up around the macaroni, holding it all together. Give this one a try!
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 20 ounces cheddar or hoop cheese, grated
- Salt for pasta cooking water
- 9 T butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish
- 9 T flour
- 4-1/2 cups whole milk, heated
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper, finely ground (or white pepper)
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
The principle for making this white sauce is to combine equal parts of fat and flour in a sauce pan until cooked through, and then adding warmed milk. For every 2 TBSP fat (such as butter or oil) add 2 TBSP flour and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add warmed milk at the rate of 1 C per every 2 TBSP of the fat/flour mixture, and seasonings. Continue cooking, while stirring or whisking until JUST BEFORE the mixture begins to bubble and thicken (about 1 to 2 minutes). It is important to remove the pan from the heat BEFORE the sauce begins to thicken – so that you can pour it over the macaroni and have it seep into all the cracks and crevices. If the sauce begins to thicken, then it will sit on top of the macaroni and never make it through to the bottom layer of the dish – this is crucial.
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish liberally; set aside.
- Fill a large saucepan or pot 2/3 of the way full of water. Set the pot on high heat and bring to a boil.
- When the pasta water comes to a roaring boil, add 2 Tablespoons of salt and add macaroni; cook about 8 minutes — 2 fewer minutes than manufacturer’s directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is slightly underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and shake to drain well.
- Place 1/3 of the cooked macaroni in the bottom of the buttered baking dish, followed by 1/3 of the shredded cheese; repeat for 3 layers, ending with shredded cheese on top of the casserole.
- In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk (or use the microwave).
- In a medium saucepan or high-sided skillet over medium heat, melt the 8 tablespoons butter. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
- Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly for only about 1 minute, until JUST BEFORE the sauce begins to bubble and thicken.
- Immediately remove the pan from the heat before the sauce thickens. Stir in 2 tsp. salt, nutmeg, black pepper and cayenne pepper and whisk well.
- Pour the mixture over the macaroni and cheese in the prepared casserole dish; the liquid should come almost to the top of the macaroni. Bake, uncovered, until browned on top and the white sauce has set, at least 30 minutes or more. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
For best results, use a whisk for stirring white sauce ingredients to avoid any lumps.
Milk (or other liquid) should be heated before adding to the butter/flour mixture to avoid lumps. Trying to incorporate cold liquid will definitely produce more lumps which will have to be vigorously whisked to achieve a smooth consistency.
Once the milk is incorporated and lump-free, you may continue stirring with a wooden spoon, instead of a whisk (if desired) during the cooking. Continue stirring during cooking almost constantly to avoid any lumps or sticking.
Nutmeg adds a nice layer of flavor, but be mindful of adding too much because it is strong and quickly moves from background flavoring to overpowering.