Mac-and-cheese is one of those foods that practically every child loves. In fact, some children of my acquaintance seemed to subsist entirely on mac-and-cheese, and the occasional grilled-cheese sandwich, for months at a go.
But the standard packaged stuff isn’t quite so appealing, at least not for the adults. So for a family meal, the trick is to find a gussied-up mac-and-cheese recipe that has enough interesting flavor and texture for the grown-ups, but not too much strong or “weird” cheese flavor to scare off the kids.
We’ve experimented with several combinations, and this one seems to satisfy everybody: The fontina and Mexican cheeses are nicely bland and creamy, and the cheddar and Asiago add just enough interest that the more mature palates don’t revolt. You can substitute any creamy, melting cheese for the three main cheeses, as long as you keep roughly the same proportion. And if your kids will stand for it, you can also add a thin layer of bread crumbs before baking, to add a bit of crunch.
Kid-friendly Four-Cheese Mac-n-Cheese
Serves 4-5 as a main course, 6-8 as a side
8 oz macaroni (elbow, farfalle or shells)
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 3/4 cup 2% milk
1 cup sharp cheddar, finely shredded
1 cup fontina cheese, finely shredded
1 cup Asadero or quesadilla cheese, finely shredded
1/2 cup Asiago cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste, if desired
Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray a medium-size casserole dish with nonstick spray and set aside.
Over high heat, bring a big pot of salted water to boil, then add macaroni. Cook till just before al dente – about two minutes less than recommended on package. Drain and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, then stir in flour to make a roux. Cook for about two-three minutes, stirring or whisking constantly, but do not allow to brown. Slowly add milk, in a thin stream, whisking or stirring the entire time to avoid lumps.
Cook sauce, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, at least five minutes. Lower heat slightly and stir in cheddar, fontina and Asadero or quesadilla cheese, stirring until cheese is completely melted and sauce is smooth. Taste sauce, and add salt or pepper if desired. (Personally, we have found it does not need any extra salt!)
Add cooked macaroni and stir to coat well. Transfer to prepared baking dish and sprinkle with grated Asiago cheese. Bake 20 to 30 minutes, until casserole is heated through, cheese is bubbly, and edges are just starting to brown.