Updated: Feb 2
By Elizabeth Gracen:
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Macaroni and Cheese? Seriously?
Yes . . . seriously, and it's seriously good.
Like most moms, my kid had their fair share of boxed mac & cheese when they were little. Lazy, I know, but there was a phase where that was the only thing that would do—bright orange in the shape of . . . whatever. I chose not to look at the ingredients at the time, because that was what made them happy, so mamma obliged.
Now that their pallate is a tad more sophisticated (a tad), I've been able to substitute a delicious alternative that is requested often and gives classic macaroni and cheese a run for it's goopy, cheesy money—Macaroni Gratin.
The recipe is from another one of my favorite go-to cookbooks—The French Country Table: Simple Recipes for Bistro Classics by Laura Washburn. You can tell from the ratty cover that I like to use this cookbook a lot. Trained at École de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, Washburn, a native of California, offers classic French country cooking recipes that you would find in typical bistros all around France. This cookbook covers everything from crudités, soups, meat, poultry and game, fish, and seafood to salads, sides, and yummy desserts. They are all truly reliable recipes that I highly recommend.
In the comment section above the recipe, Washburn states that,"It is ideal for serving with beef stews, as the gratin is even better when mixed with broth." Who knew? I've never thought of serving this as a side for a beef stew, but Autumn has arrived, so you never know.
The original recipe calls for an Alpine cheese called Beaufort cheese—which I have yet to find, even in cheese shops in the city. I've experimented with Gruyère or Emmental, and they are both excellent. My family doesn't particularly like a crusty cheese top, so I incorporate the cheese right into the béchamel—the old fashioned, American way. I find that the original recipe makes way too much sauce for the amount of macaroni, so I've adjusted the ingredients.
10 oz macaroni
1.5 cups milk
2 Tbsp. crème fraîche (you can use sour cream)
4 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup grated cheese (Beaufort, Gruyère, or Emmental—any Alpine cheese will work)
Follow the package instructions to cook the macaroni. Drain and set aside in its pan.
Lightly heat milk in another saucepan, stirring in the crème fraîche or sour cream. Don't let it scorch!
In another saucepan, melt the butter over mid-high heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly for approx. 3 minutes. You want that "flour smell" to cook off, but don't let it get brown.
Slowly pour in the warm milk mixture and stir with a whisk until it thickens.
Stir in the cheese until it melds into the sauce.
Season with a little salt and pepper.
Add the sauce to the macaroni and stir until combined. You can adjust the seasoning at this point to your taste.
Preheat a broiler.
Transfer the mixture to a casserole dish and sprinkle just a bit of grated cheese on top.
Cook under the broiler for 10–15 minutes until it's lightly browned and bubbly. Be careful not to brown it too much.
Serve hot! It's also great reheated, so make a lot!
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