- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Many of you have heard me harp about this before, but I cannot seem to get over it. My children would rather eat the orange or blue boxes of macaroni and cheese than my homemade version.

I don’t know how they can resist the made-from-scratch white sauce and the melted aged Vermont cheddar, but the answer is that they are children and that children tend to prefer the creamy, bland stuff. And television advertising doesn’t hurt, either.

Gradually, they have weakened, though. This easy, cheesy casserole is one they look forward to because it is creamy. Parents look forward to it because it has a whole lot of flavor, either on its own or paired with a nice roasted chicken and the fixings.

I found when testing this recipe that pre-made Alfredo-style pasta sauces differ. I prefer the refrigerated sauces (especially the DiGiorno brand) over those found on the shelf. If you like some zip, add a pinch of dried mustard or a little Worcestershire sauce when you add the Alfredo sauce.

Five time-shaving ways to use a cup of pasta

I love having a handful of pasta left in the box, for I add it to soups, stews or a last-minute pasta salad. Pour uncooked pasta into:

• Your favorite chili. Boil until tender and serve with grated cheese on top.

• Your favorite vegetable soup for a satisfying meal.

• Boiling water and cook until tender. Drain and top with a saute of cooked veggies or chicken. Top with Parmesan and eat.

• Boiling water, along with a handful of frozen peas or fresh asparagus spears, and cook with the pasta until tender. Top with Parmesan and eat.

• Boiling water and cook until tender. Drain and add chilled, chopped chicken or shrimp, or diced cooked ham, any chopped veggies from your fridge, salt, pepper and Italian salad dressing to coat for a fast pasta salad.

Home-style macaroni and cheese

The preparation and cooking time is 12 minutes, and the baking time is 25 to 30 minutes.

Vegetable-oil cooking spray, for misting the baking dish

Water

8 ounces elbow macaroni

Salt for cooking the macaroni, optional

1 10-ounce container refrigerated Alfredo-style pasta sauce

1 12-ounce (3 cups) package pre-shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup coarse bread crumbs

Lightly mist an 11-by-7-inch (2-quart) glass or ceramic baking dish with vegetable-oil cooking spray and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add salt, if using, and stir in the macaroni. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook macaroni uncovered, until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain macaroni well in a colander, shaking it a few times to remove any water that might still cling to the pasta. Transfer macaroni to prepared baking dish. Add pasta sauce, 2 cups cheese and reserved pasta cooking water, and stir until ingredients are well combined. Scatter remaining 1 cup cheese over top.

In a small bowl, toss olive oil with bread crumbs, and then scatter them on top of cheese. Bake in preheated 375-degree oven until macaroni and cheese is bubbly and bread crumbs are lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve at once. Makes 8 servings.

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