For as long as I can remember my mother has called me “Miss Jenny.” Not all the time and not necessarily in public, but often enough so that I don’t notice unless I really stop and think about it. As an endearing as the little nickname is, I’m convinced my mom started calling me that not to be cute, but because it was part of a bigger plan she had for me.
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A few weeks ago, Mom called to tell me that she had just watched someone on the Today Show making macaroni and cheese — all in one pot, apparently. “Oh you would’ve loved her. She was so natural and funny. I think maybe you should try to watch it. She was sweet. Just a doll. She was just like you.”
The seed she planted that time was probably not what she had hoped for. Instead of unleashing my inner Miss Jenny, I instead found myself obsessing over the idea of a one-pot, baked macaroni and cheese. My nine-year-old loves mac and cheese, but for whatever reason, I find myself avoiding a homemade batch because of all the gear involved. I started experimenting, spending more time in the kitchen that I would ever admit to Sandra Day O’Connor (or my mother). I discovered that it was a great recipe for salvaging leftover heels of cheese — almost any combo of hard cheeses worked — and though I never quite pared it down to one pot, I streamlined it to the point where all the prep work could be done in the time it took for the pasta to cook.
Macaroni & Cheese
The first thing Miss Jenny would like you to know is that you should get that pot of water on the stove to boil immediately. Do it right now and then get the rest of the ingredients organized and prepped. In the end, you should only use two pots. This serves about eight kids (or probably two adults and three kids) and seems like the right kind of thing to make for a slumber party.
1 pound tubular pasta, such as penne rigate shown above
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp paprika
1 tsp mustard powder
Salt and pepper
1 3/4 cups milk
2 cups grated hard cheese (I used a mix of Parmesan, Cheddar, and aged Gouda Parano because that’s what I had in the fridge)
1/2 cup combination bread crumbs OR panko OR crumbled potato chips, mixed with 1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare pasta according to package instructions and drain. While it cooks, melt the butter in a Dutch Oven over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, paprika, mustard powder, salt, and pepper, then slowly drizzle in the milk, whisking continuously until mixture is smooth. Raise heat a bit and bring to a roiling simmer. Cook until it thickens, about one minute. Toss in pasta and cheese. (It might look extra gooey, but that will be absorbed in the oven.)
Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and crumbled potato chips and bake for 20-25 minutes until it’s golden on top and bubbly on the sides.
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Jenny Rosenstrach is the author of Dinner: A Love Story and the blog of the same name. She and her husband write The Providers column for Bon Appetit.