When Mac & Cheese went gourmet

in Pasta

I don’t know how long it has been since I’ve had old school Mac & Cheese. I think I had a pack of Easy Mac once, maybe about 6 years ago. Before that, I’m positive I didn’t have a driver’s license yet. Mac & cheese had the perfect food equation Yellow powder + Noodles + Water = Yum! Who didn’t love that cornea-searing orange powder from a pouch!

Last summer, we were invited to Navasota to have lunch with my husband’s family (I think someone was having a birthday… perhaps Father’s Day, even). It would be pretty much his entire side of the family, so we were asked to bring a dish. My husband, on the phone, relayed to his mom that I said we would be bringing mac & cheese. I giggled because I knew the mental picture they were seeing. Mac & cheese… as in from-a-blue-box mac & cheese.

We are a foodie nation, as evidenced by all the gourmet make-overs to the “normal” dishes with which we grew up. There are entire cookbooks devoted to making grilled-cheese sandwiches, but add a couple ingredients and slap on a new label and you have “panini.” Search for “sandwich” in the cookbook section of Amazon and get back more than 5,000 entries!

I remember seeing the classic PB&J on white get a make-over in Martha Stewart Living years ago and I thought “No friggin’ way.” Yet just the other day, I ate PB&J on toasted homemade bread with European-style Raspberry jam. Not only have I not stocked grape jelly since leaving home, I actually considered pulling out the food processor and making my own peanut butter.

Then there’s mac & cheese. Warm, gooey, and oh-so-tasty, the new mac & cheese has very little in common with the original. The mac & cheese I love today has no cornea-searing powdered cheese, it has Fontina. My mac & cheese doesn’t use water, it uses milk and heavy cream. It doesn’t use those tiny tube or elbow noodles, it uses penne pasta. So armed with a large pan of “macaroni and cheese,” we set off for lunch in Navasota. The pasta was a hit across all age brackets. We even served a dressed-up version at our wedding reception last fall.

When did mac & cheese go gourmet? I have no idea. The earliest cookbook I could find devoted completely to the dish was published in 2001. The recipe for my favorite foodie mac & cheese is in today’s Sauce of the Day post. It is a modification of one of Giada de Laurentiis’ recipes from Everyday Italian. Enjoy!

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