“What happened is he was forced into eating my food, because he didn’t have any money to buy food, because we played cards and I won all of his money. … So I said, ‘Boo, since I took your money, I might as well feed you. Come to my place and I’ll fix dinner for you and the band,’” LaBelle explained. One of the dishes she made was this macaroni and cheese, which contains five types of cheese, including Velveeta. Like a lot of Oprah’s in-studio audience that day, I was mesmerized by LaBelle’s style and verve in the kitchen, and I couldn’t wait to make the recipe. As promised, it sent me over the rainbow.
For various reasons, including one year when I hosted a friend who had an egg allergy, I’ve adapted it slightly from LaBelle’s original recipe. I swapped a few sharper cheeses for LaBelle’s blend; feel free to use your favorite types, but don’t skimp on the Velveeta. In this adaptation, a light roux forms a cream sauce with the half-and-half, giving the cheese something to melt into as it bakes in the oven. This also makes it easier to prepare the macaroni and cheese in advance. If you’re making it a day or two before, refrigerate it unbaked, until you’re ready to serve it, and then bake it in a 350-degree oven for at least 20 minutes, or until it’s hot and bubbling.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded or grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Muenster cheese
- 1 cup (8 ounces) Velveeta, cut into small cubes
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, or more to taste
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 3 1/2 cups half-and-half, cold
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or other ground red chile, or to taste (optional)
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.
In a medium bowl, toss together the Parmesan, Monterey Jack, cheddar, Muenster and Velveeta. Reserve about 3/4 cup cheese mixture for the topping.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt and the macaroni, and cook until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Drain the pasta, give it a stir and set aside while you make the sauce.
In the same pot, over medium-high heat, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter until it foams, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and whisk until the flour sizzles and turns blonde without letting it brown, about 2 minutes. Whisk in 2 cups of the half-and-half. Reduce the heat to medium, switch to a rubber spatula and stir until the mixture thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups half-and-half and remove from the heat. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, the black pepper and cayenne or chile pepper, if using.
Stir in all but the reserved 3/4 cup of the cheese mixture until completely incorporated. Carefully, stir in the cooked macaroni, breaking up any large pieces that may have stuck together, until just combined. The cheeses will not all be melted, they will finish melting in the oven. Taste and adjust the seasonings, and then pour into the prepared 9-by-13-inch dish. Top it with the reserved 3/4 cup of the cheese mixture.
Bake, uncovered, for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the cheeses on top are melted and the mixture is bubbling and hot.
Variations: For a stove-top version, keep the pasta and cheese in the pot and stir over low heat until the cheeses are melted and the macaroni is hot, about 10 minutes.
Calories: 767; Total Fat: 48 g; Saturated Fat: 26 g; Cholesterol: 132 mg; Sodium: 1350 mg; Carbohydrates: 70 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 35 g.
Adapted from “LaBelle Cuisine” by Patti LaBelle (Clarkson Potter, 1999).