I finally accepted that I feel at home in the East Bay when I first went to Homeroom in Oakland, CA. A restaurant dedicated entirely to macaroni and cheese? With pitchers of cider on tap? Yes, please. I’m sorry, have I died? Give me, like, 20 minutes to finish off this caramelized onion-swirled, green pea-studded bowl of bliss and then we can check in with St. Peter.
But a restaurant that does nothing but variations on that one dish? These strangely specific menus, while perhaps uncommon in more sparsley-populated areas, are popping up all over the Bay Area. Perhaps it’s due to the rise of the food truck as a legitimate dining experience that even brick-and-mortar shops are copying their simple, more mobile counterparts by focusing on just a few dishes prepared with enthusiasm. Maybe it’s a borderline-unhealthy obsession with food that inspires us to buy into the concept of an all-bacon lunch spot (or swarm a bakery for its one unholy croissant-doughnut hybrid). Whatever it is, I am fully supportive! If you have the opportunity to go to Homeroom at some point, just do it. And if you forget to ask for the breadcrumb topping, Heaven help you. (The gluten-intolerant among you can get crushed potato chips instead so who wins this round, really?)
When Lizzie’s birthday came around (shoutout to Company Co. Events!) and we were brainstorming meal ideas, mac and cheese seemed to suggest itself. What’s more comforting, more decadent and indulgent, than pasta coated in a creamy cheese sauce? We scoured the internet for recipes and managed to find Homeroom’s classic combination. With a victorious cry, we bought a block each of Gruyère and sharp white cheddar (I can’t think of a more giddying shopping list). Moving along carefully, babying our roux as it browned in the base of a Le Creuset pot, we crafted the bechamel. I have to admit that the portions of cheese that went into the sauce were, shall we say, generous. But what’s the point of making a friend mac ‘n’ cheese if you’re not going to give her the best ya got?
Creamy Mac N’ Cheese
Serves 6. Recipe adapted from Oakland, California’s mac n’ cheese mecca, Homeroom
For the Bechamel
- 4 Cups Whole Milk
- 8 Tbsp (1 Stick) Unsalted Butter
- 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 2 Tbsp Salt
- 1 lb Cavatappi/ Cellentani Pasta (easily found at your grocery store, we liked the shape of this pasta for our mac)
- 3 Cups Aged Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
- 2 Cups Gruyere, shredded
- 2/3 Cups Panko (optional if you want a crunch breadcrumb top)
In a small saucepan, heat the milk until just simmering. In a large heavy bottom saucepan (we used the Le Creuset), melt the butter over medium heat and add the flour to make a roux. Stir constantly until the flower starts to get a bit of golden color, about 3 minutes, then remove from heat. Slowly add the simmering milk to the roux mixing constantly to incorporate the ingredients. This mixture will get very thick at first but will thin out a bit once all the milk is added and incorporated.
Put the bechamel back onto the stove at medium heat and stir in the salt. At this stage the bechamel should be creamy and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the cavatappi pasta according to package directions for al dente. You want the pasta to be just almost done. Strain cooked pasta and run cool water over it to stop the pasta from cooking further. If you plan to add panko to the mac n cheese, pre-heat your oven to 400 degreed Fahrenheit.
Back to the pot of bechamel. Over medium heat add both cheeses and stir until melted into the sauce. Add the pasta and stir until all pasta has an even coating of cheese sauce. Serve immediately – or if baking, sprinkle the top with the panko crumbs and put in the oven for 25 minutes. This is why we chose to use the Le Creuset because you can go from stove top to oven with one pot.
We chose to make a very simple mac n cheese with our choices of cheese, but this recipe is only a baseline. Add fun ingredients like caramelized onion, green peas, bacon, hot dogs, or potato chip topping instead of panko. Experiment with different cheeses like goat cheese or white cheddar, there is really no limit to the creativity you could have with this dish!
Serve and enjoy!