Grandma’s Mac and Cheese is rich, cheesy, and oh-so-creamy just like grandma used to make.
My Grandma came to the US after World War II. She intended to work at the Danish Embassy in Washington D.C. for 2-3 years before returning to Denmark. She was going to have a little adventure overseas, then settle down back home. What she didn’t intend on was to be introduced to a soldier who was in D.C. rehabbing from a land mine accident from the war. She certainly didn’t expect that said soldier, who lost his foot back in Germany, to take her dancing, write her poetry, make her jewelry during his stay at the hospital. She didn’t expect him to woo her. But he did. And she married him.
Being that my Grandma was Scandinavian, she was very thrifty and clever in her homemaking sensibilities. Coupled with the fact that my Grandpa grew up during the Depression, they were a very frugal couple in that nothing went to waste.
Now growing up, I was fortunate to be able to spend every other weekend at my Grandma’s house. Once there, we would invariably end up with a crowd of cousins playing games on Saturday night, or at the very least, have Sunday Dinner together. With 5 children, and (at the time) 9 grandchildren, she was used to feeding a crowd and making ingredients stretch. I learned a lot watching her work. Grandma’s Mac and Cheese recipe started as a good way to use leftover ham, but quickly became a family staple. It still is.
Over the years, I’ve tried to fancy-schmancy up the ingredients, but something about making it the way Grandma did just feels like home.
Start in the usual way, by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a 2.5 liter casserole dish with olive oil. If you don’t have one, a 13 x 9 baking dish will work just fine.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water, until the pasta is al dente: or soft, but still has a slight “bite” to it. You don’t want it overdone, because it will finish cooking in the oven later. Drain the pasta.
Measure the flour, dry mustard, and salt into some sort of containment vessel. Getting all of your ingredients measured & ready before assembly is called “Mis en Place” or “everything in it’s place.”
If you are ever on a useless trivia show with a million dollars on the line–I am totally your phone-a-friend.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Stir in the flour mixture.
Cook and stir the flour/dry mustard/salt/butter for two minutes. This will help cook off some of the flour-y taste. And it’ll be neat and bubbly.
Pour in the milk, all at once, and whisk until smooth. Stir it up and cook for a few minutes longer, until it begins to thicken slightly.
The sauce will just start to coat the spoon. Now, you might remember a time or two when I
harped on politely asked you to grate your own cheese. Because it tastes better, and isn’t sprayed with chemicals to keep it from clumping. Remember? Well forget I said that just this once. OK? Good.
Because Grandma said it was a-O-K to use the pre-shredded Italian cheese blend–but only if you bought it on sale. So we’ll need 1 1/2 cups of Italian cheese. And are you ready for this? You know what else Grandma used in her famous mac & cheese?
Don’t go being all judge-y here. This 100% grated parmesan in a the green can was Gram’s secret ingredient. It works here. She only used 3/4 cup in the sauce. I’m sure it was what she had on hand. Fortunately for us–it’s delicious!
This is not the last you will see of the grated parmesan-in-a-can–consider yourself warned.
Dump in the cheeses, and stir the sauce until the cheese is melted. Then stir the sauce some more, until it has a chance to thicken up a bit–about 2 more minutes.
Stir the pasta and ham into the cheese sauce until every thing is nicely coated. I like using penne pasta for mac & cheese because the pasta really gets enveloped by the cheese sauce. Who wouldn’t want to be enveloped in cheese sauce, really?
Spoon the mac & cheese & ham mixture into the prepared casserole dish. We’re almost done!
Melt 2 Tbs. butter in a small bowl in the microwave. Add the breadcrumbs. I used Panko style because I like the crunch. Grandma would have made her own.
Pour in 1/4 cup of the grated parmesan-in-a-can. See? I told you it would make another appearance!
Stir the breadcrumb mixture with a fork until the bread crumbs are coated in the butter and begin to clump.
Spread the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top, and pop it in the oven until the breadcrumbs are toasty brown, and the cheese is bubbly–about 20 minutes.
Sigh. I love the smell of mac & cheese baking in the oven. It smells like I’m having dinner at Grandma’s house every time I make it.
Grandma’s Mac and Cheese is so rich, creamy, and super cheesy that it tastes like getting a big ol’ hug from grandma with every bite.
Scoop up big bowls of Grandma’s Mac and Cheese and serve it to your loved ones. They will love you for it!