When I was growing up, macaroni and cheese was a very special treat. The only time the boxed version made an appearance at our table was on the rare occasion when my parents went out in the evening and left us with a baby sitter. The sitter was given strict instructions to serve it with carrot sticks and glasses of milk, which dampened the joy of dayglow pasta just a little.
It wasn’t until I went away to college that I discovered two things about macaroni and cheese: It is dead simple to make from scratch, and if you stir in some kind of vegetable in with the pasta, you can call it a complete meal.
Once I was living off-campus and had a real kitchen at my disposal, I had my way with the world of mac and cheese. My roommates and I made cheesy shells with cheese, stirred ribbons of zucchini in with leftover spaghetti noodles, and we even did a batch of smoked salmon and cream cheese mac and cheese once for a brunch potluck. They were all tasty dishes that left me with a healthy respect for the power of cooked pasta and a quick batch of cheese sauce.