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Baked Orzo and Cheese

I can’t tell you how hard I tried when the kids were little to come up with a homemade macaroni and cheese that they would choose to eat over that stuff in the box. They just weren’t interested. But now that they are older and have traveled a little bit, they seem to be open to new tastes. Their affection for this dish is proof.

This recipe is really just a blueprint. It is your basic macaroni and cheese baked with a crumb crust. You can use different cheeses, spice it up southwestern style with some corn and chipotles or pickled jalapenos or add Mediterranean elements such as sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and capers. Get wild—just keep the proportions roughly the same.

Serves 4 to 6

Kosher salt to taste
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk, heated
2 cups coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 pound orzo
1 1/4 fresh bread crumbs
1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375ºF and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the orzo.

Heat 3 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, pour in the milk, and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking often, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Cheddar. Season with salt and pepper

Add the orzo to the boiling water and bring back to a boil over high heat. Cook until al dente, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain well and stir into the cheese sauce. Transfer to a large shallow buttered baking dish.

Mix the bread crumbs with the Parmigiano-Reggiano in a small bowl and sprinkle over the orzo. Bake in the middle of the oven until bubbling and lightly browned on top, about 20 minutes.

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