Classic Southern Macaroni and Cheese — Down-Home Comfort

Classic Southern Macaroni and Cheese

Classic Southern Macaroni and Cheese

Photo by: Virginia Willis ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

Virginia Willis, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

From the familiar blue box to gourmet eight-cheese combinations, we can't seem to get enough of mac and cheese. It may be the be all and end all of down-home comfort food. It's rich, flavorful and satisfying — friendly and familiar but never dull. It's a great, classic choice for dinner parties and a vegetarian dish that leaves even the carnivores contented. Almost everyone loves it. Creamy and cheesy, there simply aren't many foods more comforting than homemade macaroni and cheese.

There are two primary formulas for making all-American macaroni and cheese: the bechamel or custard method. Bechamel is a white sauce made by stirring heated milk into a butter-flour roux. This white sauce can be thin, thick or somewhere in the middle. The thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of butter and flour to milk and varies according to what you are using it for: for example, thin for soup, medium-bodied for casseroles such as mac and cheese, and thick for souffles. The medium white sauce is probably the most common. The proportions for a thin sauce are 1 tablespoon each of butter and flour per 1 cup of milk, a medium sauce uses 2 tablespoons each of butter and flour, and a very thick sauce, 3 tablespoons each. Bechamel is a very useful sauce in the kitchen, far beyond mac and cheese.

Make-ahead Sausage and Cheese Grits Casserole

Make-ahead Sausage and Cheese Grits Casserole

Photo by: Virginia Willis ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

Virginia Willis, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

The classic Southern macaroni and cheese, however, uses the custard method. The custard forms as the macaroni cooks, so no sauce is made ahead of time. This is the version of macaroni and cheese that I grew up enjoying. It is a proverbial dump-and-stir recipe. This mac and cheese is great for busy moms as well as folks on a budget, yet with a couple of additions such as sauteed spinach, lobster or shrimp, it can become an uptown one-pot meal. There's mac and cheese for every occasion. Try it with different ingredients to find the perfect recipe for your hungry brood.

Bon Appétit, Y'all!

Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother's country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y'all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Classic Pound Cake — Down-Home Comfort

Buttery, rich pound cake might very well be the ultimate down-home comfort dessert.

A Duo of Southern Dips — Down-Home Comfort

Game-day goodies deserve a dose of down-home comfort, too, and this duo of dips is certain to score with your home team. I’m sharing two favorite Southern dips — Pimento Cheese and Warm Crab Dip.

Make-Ahead Sausage and Cheese Grits Casserole — Down-Home Comfort

Grits are easy to prepare, can be a main meal or a side dish, will hold for hours in a low oven and reheat wonderfully as leftovers, even in the microwave.

Southern Comfort Comes to South Beach at Trisha Yearwood's Down-Home Brunch

Check out insider photos from Trisha's down-home brunch at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

Tailgate Chili — Down-Home Comfort

I think the perfect tailgate food just might be chili. The one thing that can be agreed upon is that anyone who loves making chili thinks that theirs is the greatest. Well, that and that their team is the best.

Summer Succotash — Down-Home Comfort

Succotash is essentially an all-American stir-fry.

Shrimp and Grits — Down-Home Comfort

Down-home comfort has caught fire in the last 10 years or so with the classic low-country dish Shrimp and Grits. It’s being served in white tablecloth restaurants from Savannah to Seattle.

Creole Crawfish Etouffee — Down-Home Comfort

Etoufee is a succulent, tangy tomato gravy usually made with crawfish or shrimp that traditionally starts with a dark-brown roux. Crawfish and shrimp etoufees are Cajun country specialties.

Summer Tomato Pie — Down-Home Comfort

Tomatoes are, in fact, a fruit, but their affinity for other savory ingredients means that they are usually classed as a vegetable. Fruit or vegetable, they are a rock-solid part of summer down-home comfort.