Don’t laugh. This dish might give you more insight into my culinary history than almost anything else. It’s a throwback to my childhood and it speaks directly to my more-than-occasional desire for quickness and efficiency, in that I love a good casserole or one-skillet dish. No fuss, no muss, easy cleanup, and get-right-to-it dinner. I made this for Wolfie and his friends when they came home after soccer or Little League practice. I can still picture everyone at the kitchen table, doing homework, while I simmered the beef in the mélange of spices and added macaroni, cheese, and breadcrumbs, and then announced to a sea of smiling faces, “Dinner’s ready.” Years later, I whipped out this dish when Tom’s kids entered the picture and everyone came home from college during breaks. We all know the store-bought mix; this homemade version is even better than the classic, I promise.
Serves 4 Hands-on 10 minutes Total 35 minutes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound ground 90% lean beef
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
2 cups whole milk
1¼ cups warm water
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
11/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
½ cup chopped American cheese
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh chives
1/4 cup panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)
1 scallion, green part sliced
Melt the butter in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Add the beef, black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt; cook, stirring to crumble, until browned, about 5 minutes.
Preheat the broiler with the oven rack 3 to 4 inches from the heat.
Reduce the stovetop heat to medium, and stir in the macaroni. Add the milk, warm water, mustard, paprika, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. 3. Bring to a low simmer; cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the macaroni is tender, about 12 minutes. Add the cheeses, and cook, stirring constantly, until the cheeses melt. Stir in the chives. Sprinkle the panko over the macaroni mixture. Broil until the panko is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Garnish with the scallion, and serve immediately.
Variation: Add some slices of jalapeño for extra kick.
Excerpted from Valerie’s Home Cooking by Valerie Bertinelli. Copyright © 2017 Oxmoor House. Reprinted with permission from Time Inc. Books, a division of Time Inc. New York, NY. All rights reserved.