There are two benefits to getting a sourdough starter going. One: you have a working starter and can bake yummy breads when you like. Two: you can stop talking about the starter all the time. OK, so I cannot guarantee that I won’t post about making bread with the starter again, but hopefully, you’ve seen the last of foamy, frothy starter pictures. And I know at least one of you is happy to hear that!

I’ve been looking around for a good mac and cheese recipe for a while and have even attempted a few. So far, I would say that this recipe, adapted from one by the always-trusty Ina Garten, is the best I’ve tried and will probably be the basis of all my future mac and cheese endeavors. It’s got an excellent bechamel sauce, a decent sauce-to-pasta ratio, and a really crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Of course, since mac and cheese is so conducive to variations, I have no intention of making the exact same recipe twice. This time around, I omitted the bacon in the original recipe for the sake of eating less meat, but next time around, I might not be as disciplined. A couple handfuls of peppery arugula would be excellent here too, as would green peas, wild mushrooms, corn, etc etc. The list just goes on.

(Adapted from this recipe by Ina Garten)

Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
2 cups elbow macaroni or other small pasta shapes
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
4 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated
3 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar, grated
2 oz. blue cheese, such as Roquefort, crumbled
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
2 handfuls of spinach, washed, spun dry, and leaves coarsely torn or chopped
2 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the macaroni and cook until just al dente, 6 to 8 minutes. Rinse under cool water to stop the cooking and drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the milk over very low heat in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt the butter in a medium pot and add the flour, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk all the time. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or 2 more, until thickened and smooth. Take the pan off the heat and add the Gruyere, Cheddar, blue cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and spinach leaves and stir well.

Pour into a deep souffle dish or square (9×9) glass baking dish.

Place the bread slices in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until you have coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the top of the pasta.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

(Makes 2 servings)

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