A knack for mac and cheese

Whatever the origin, dish entrenched as an American favorite.

But who? Culinary historians agree the idea had to have been born in Italy — really, what better to toss into spaghetti or rigatoni than some freshly shaved Parmigiano- Reggiano? But few can come to terms with how this rudimentary synthesis of carbs and fat came to be on this side of the pond.

English noodle puddings certainly made their way across the Atlantic, and a sweeter, pudding version of noodles and cheese was probably a favorite of Colonial Americans. Many historians credit Thomas Jefferson, who, in addition to possessing a keen culinary curiosity, brought a pasta mold home to Monticello after traveling to Europe. A version of the unctuous stuff was purportedly served at a state dinner at the White House in 1802. Others credit his daughter Martha J. Randolph, who apparently took on the task of running his household after his wife died.

But it was Mary Randolph — Martha’s sister-in-law — who offered a recipe for macaroni and cheese (made simply with macaroni, cheese type unspecified and butter) in her famous cookbook “The Virginia Housewife,” published in 1824.

Little blue boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese appeared on grocery shelves in 1937, popularizing the creamy orange mass for generations to come.

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Recipes

In hard times, the familiar comforts. That’s why most chefs stick to elbow macaroni, penne or rigatoni when making mac and cheese. As for what type of cheese, the gamut is glutted, from Parmesan to Monterey Jack and back. Two of Atlanta’s best mac and cheese makers, chef-owner Ford Fry of JCT Kitchen and chef-owner David Roberts of Community Q, share their recipes. We’ve got a recipe for Oprah Winfrey’s favorite, too.

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Delilah Winder’s Macaroni and Cheese

Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes Serves: 12

Philadelphia chef and cookbook author Delilah Winder made a splash a few years ago when Oprah Winfrey declared Winder’s mac and cheese the best in the land ... literally. Her recipe has all the goods to be just that: seven kinds of cheese, eggs and heavy cream. She adds turkey sausage to make this side dish into a meal.

2 (13-ounce) packages turkey sausage (Winder uses Hillshire Farms)

Salt

2 pounds elbow macaroni

12 eggs

1 cup cubed Velveeta cheese

½ pound (2 sticks) butter, melted

6 cups half-and-half, divided

4 cups grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese, separated into 3 cups and 1 cup

2 cups grated extra-sharp white cheddar cheese

1½ cups grated mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated asiago cheese

1 cup grated Gruyère cheese

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

1 cup grated muenster cheese

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cube the turkey sausage. In a large skillet, sauté until brown; set aside to keep warm.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil Add the macaroni and cook until still slightly al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain, set aside and keep warm.

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until frothy. Combine eggs, Velveeta, butter and 2 cups half-and-half in a large bowl. Add the warm macaroni, tossing until the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth. Add remaining half-and-half, 3 cups yellow cheddar cheese, white cheddar cheese, mozzarella, asiago, Gruyère, Monterey Jack, muenster and salt and pepper, tossing until completely combined. Fold in turkey sausage.

Pour the mixture into a buttered 9-by-13-inch casserole or baking dish and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the remaining cup of yellow cheddar cheese over the top. Bake until golden brown on top, about 30 minutes more. Serve hot from the oven.

Per serving: 958 calories (percent of calories from fat, 71), 52 grams protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 76 grams fat (45 grams saturated), 463 milligrams cholesterol, 1,566 milligrams sodium.

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JCT Kitchen’s Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Hands on: 10 minutes Total time: 20 minutes Serves: 10

If you’ve eaten at this westside restaurant, you’ve probably been tempted to try the macaroni and cheese, a creamy rendition that isn’t baked — just cook the pasta, melt the cheese and enjoy.

1 pound elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons salt

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups grated sharp cheddar

Salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, bring 1 gallon water to a boil. Add macaroni and salt and cook just until the macaroni is done. Drain, then return macaroni to the pot and stir in cream and cheddar. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes, then taste and season with salt and pepper. If you’re not serving right away, the macaroni will absorb the cream, so you’ll need to add more cream to thin it out to the right consistency.

Per serving: 424 calories (percent of calories from fat, 56), 12 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 26 grams fat (16 grams saturated), 89 milligrams cholesterol, 1,440 milligrams sodium.

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Community Q’s Three Cheese Mac and Cheese

Hands on: 15 minutes Total time: 1 hour Serves: 4

Chef-owner David Roberts, formerly of Sam & Dave’s in Marietta, is as famous for his macaroni and cheese as he is for his beef brisket. His new ’cue joint, Community Q in Decatur, offers his three-cheese rendition.

Salt

1 (16-ounce) box rigatoni noodles

8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided

8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided

4 ounces grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided

2 cups heavy cream

Freshly ground pepper (if desired), to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat and season with salt. Add pasta and cook until just tender, about 12 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain well in a colander without rinsing.

Transfer the pasta to a large bowl. Add half the cheddar, Monterey Jack and Parmesan, reserving the rest for the top. Add heavy cream and stir to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Transfer the noodle mixture to a medium buttered gratin dish or casserole. Sprinkle remaining cheddar, Monterey Jack and Parmesan cheeses on top. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly before serving.

Per serving: 1,400 calories (percent of calories from fat, 58), 57 grams protein, 90 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 90 grams fat (56 grams saturated), 295 milligrams cholesterol, 1,236 milligrams sodium.

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