The perceptive examiner of the picture in this post will probably agree that I did not choose an auspicious time to tart-up a macaroni and cheese dinner. I should’ve reached for a box of Annie’s Organic (and believe me, as much as I believe in a home-cooked meal, I reach for the Annie’s with great frequency in stressed times) rather than set out to make a white sauce while my over-tired, over-heated, under-snacked and therefore unpredictable pre-K maniac was in the room. If you decide that I am actually the maniac for trying it, well, I won’t argue.
A proper white sauce is creamy and smooth and tonight’s, while creamy, was not quite as smooth as normal. But I decided to post anyway, because I want to convince you that making a roux isn’t so hard. If I could do it passably well under this evening’s circumstances, imagine what you can do with better timing and fewer interruptions. And to those who get too critical, I say most of the lumpiness in the picture is due to the cheese, which I do not allow to cook much at all, since I don’t want it to get hard or stringy!
A roux is a mix of fat and starch and it adds thickness to dishes. The idea is to get the fat to activate the starch in your flour without burning it. It is the binder for a rich gravy, a thick gumbo, and unctuous macaroni and cheese. This one is blonde – which means it is not colored, so it requires little precision. All you have to do to make this happen is watch your temperature and keep stirring. I mean it.
For more background on roux try Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roux
To make your own, try this!
Macaroni and cheese with style and speed (and spinach)
½ box pasta of your choice, 6-8 oz (we prefer small shells for this)
1 Cup frozen cut or chopped spinach
2 Tbs butter (salted is fine)
4 tsp all-purpose flour
¾ Cup whole milk
½ Cup grated grana padano or parmigiano reggiano or other cheese of your preference, grated fine for even melting
Salt to taste and additional grated cheese to taste
Cook pasta according to package instructions, adding frozen spinach 4-5 minutes before pasta is ready. Drain and set aside.
In the meantime, melt 1 Tbs butter in a heavy skillet at low heat (save 2nd Tbs for later in the recipe). When any foaming subsides, stir in flour 1 teaspoon at a time, stirring frequently until each teaspoon of flour is completely blended in. Then continue stirring while mix (roux) thickens into a paste. Continue cooking at least five minutes, stirring frequently to avoid burning or coloring (you need this cook time to get the floury taste out).
Add milk and raise heat to medium and stir frequently until liquid becomes thick and creamy. Stir in cheese, stir just enough to mix and then add pasta and spinach mixture and reserved butter. Mix thoroughly and salt to taste. Serve with additional grated cheese.