It is true that macaroni and cheese will not stop a pancreatic tumor from metastasizing. It cannot save a marriage rendered asunder by infidelity. Eat as much as you want — your adult children will continue to regard you with quiet contempt.
Yet in spite of its flesh-tone hue and health-threatening starchiness, the dish has an undeniably salutary effect on the soul.
Macaroni, regarded by many as the Ford Escort of pastas, provides the base. Processed cheese, the flavor. Together with a little table salt and pepper, these rather bland ingredients combine to create a heroically delicious dish that even the most inept culinary artist must struggle to ruin.
Even the off-brand, boxed version of mac ‘n cheese provides deep satisfaction. And when a particularly gifted American cook brings his or her own flair to the dish, the possibilities are mind-bending. Take, for example, my girlfriend’s mother’s mac ‘n cheese: Boil a couple of pounds of macaroni in a large steel pot. Saturate it in Velveeta. Don’t stop there, though: Throw in a couple of dozen of chunks of cheddar cheese, and then layer the top with a shredded version of the same. Bake it over an open fire, outdoors. Finally, serve — and warn your dinner companions to shield their dishes from the forthcoming tears of gratitude.