Makes 4 to 6 servings12 ounces small-elbow macaroni or small shells (about 3 cups) 1 small onion, finely chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil...

Makes 4 to 6 servings12 ounces small-elbow macaroni or small shells (about 3 cups)

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 cups hot, but not boiling, milk

½ green-bell pepper, diced

½ teaspoon yellow-mustard seeds

½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon prepared yellow or Creole mustard

½ teaspoon dry mustard

12 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded

15 to 20 pimiento-stuffed green olives, sliced

A few shakes of hot sauce, or to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons cracker crumbs or breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta in a large pot of rapidly boiling water until almost al dente. Reserve cup cooking water, then drain.

2. In a large, heavy-bottom saucepan lightly sauté onion over medium heat in olive oil until it softens, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, cook for a minute, and sprinkle in flour. Cook 1 minute. Remove from heat and add bay leaf and milk all at once. Return to heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, 5 minutes or until sauce thickens. If any flour lumps remain, whisk with a wire whisk for a few moments. Remove from heat, discard bay leaf and set aside.

3. Combine pasta with sauce and mix in diced bell pepper, mustard seeds, thyme, paprika, chili powder, prepared mustard and dry mustard. Reserve about 1/2-cup grated cheese and add remaining to pasta. Stir in olives and hot sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a 2 ½-quart casserole. Sprinkle top with reserved cheese and breadcrumbs. Dot with butter.

4. Bake 30 minutes or until topping is golden, the cheese melted and the crumbs crispy.

From “Macaroni & Cheese” by Marlena Spieler