Homemade is Better—Cheesy Penne

This week we will discuss the bechamel sauce, the third of our mother sauces we are making.  We’ve actually made four of these sauces already, but the brown sauce was not a focus when we made it.  I will write another article on that.  Tomato, espagnole (brown sauce), and bechamel sauce are the heavy hitters, in my opinion.  We use tomato a lot in various Italian dishes, and while it’s not the only sauce that the Italians use, North Americans tend to think it is.

But brown sauce is your gravy.  Classics like mushroom, port, and madeira are relatively common.  Mushroom is self-explanatory; it’s a mushroom gravy.  Port and madeira are fortified wine sauces.  Bechamel is your cheese sauces, cream sauces, mornay, nantua, soubise, and mustard.

This recipe is a cheese cause, but the others are easy enough to make as well.  Once you make your bechamel sauce, you can add prepared mustard for mustard sauces.  A 2:1 gruyere to parmesan for mornay, or slowly cook (but don’t brown) finely chopped onion for soubise.  Nantua is shrimp butter (a shrimp and butter mixture) and some heavy cream.  Each sauce works for a variety of dishes as well. But the Nantua would be best for seafood, the others, though, can work in lots of different dishes.

I hope you enjoy this twist on classic Mac and Cheese.  Try it with mornay sauce or even add some heavy cream, gruyere and parmesan—it’s so good!

Cheesy Penne

Ingredients:

¼ cup butter
¼ flour
2 cups milk
1 tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp white pepper
3-4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salt to taste
500g penne

Directions:
  • Fill a large pot with water and add a generous amount of salt. This is your chance to season your pasta.
  • Add your pasta and put it over high heat. Cook until it starts to boil, then taste the noodles to see if they are done.  It should have some resistance but be reasonably easy to chew.
  • Once the pasta is done, drain it.
  • While you’re waiting for your pasta to boil, melt your butter in another pot.
  • Once the butter is fully melted, add the flour and stir it with a whisk. The roux should form a paste that is clumpy but doesn’t fall apart.
  • Let it cook for a minute, then add the milk.
  • Stir vigorously to ensure all the flour gets incorporated.
  • Add the mustard and pepper.
  • Turn off the heat and add the cheese 1/3 at a time.
  • Keep stirring to keep it mixing.
  • Taste the sauce and add salt as you feel it needs it.
  • Once your sauce is thick and the pasta is done, add both to the large pot and stir.
  • If you want to bake it, turn your oven to 450F. Put your pasta in a casserole dish and cover with more cheese.  Bake until the cheese melts and just starts to brown slightly.
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