Classic Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

Bread-Crumb Topping

  • 4 slices white sandwich bread (hearty and torn into rough pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold and cut into 6 pieces)

Pasta and Cheese

  • 1 lb elbow macaroni
  • table salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press
  • 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ¾ cup chicken broth
  • 3 ½ cups whole milk
  • 16 ounces Colby cheese, shredded (about 5 ½ cups)
  • 8 ounces extra  sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (about 2 2/3 cups)
  • Ground black pepper

Directions

You are going to be surprised at how easy it is to make macaroni and cheese from scratch and of course how good it is! There are many variations of this classic recipe but I choose this one from Cooks Illustrated. The science behind cooking fascinates me and Cooks Illustrated does a great job going into depth on why some ingredients work and taste better than others. I’m a huge fan of their monthly magazine and read it cover to cover because it’s full of great recipes and ideas.

Another recipe I’ll post later uses a can of cheese soup. It sounds weird but it’s so good!

For the bread crumbs:

I used sourdough bread slices because I like the tartness of the bread. Pulse bread and butter in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside.

For the pasta and cheese:

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Because the pasta is already cooked and hot, all you need to do is toast the top so the bread crumbs are golden brown.

Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot over high heat. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and set aside in colander.

In now-empty pot, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne (if using) and whisk well to combine. You are making a roux which will act as a thickening agent.  Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. You will need to watch the roux the entire time so that it does not burn. You will know it’s ready when it begins to smell nutty and turns the rich brown color below. Remove immediately from heat to stop the cooking process.

Gradually whisk in milk; put pot back on the burner and bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes.

Remove pot from burner and whisk in cheeses and 1 teaspoon salt until cheeses are fully melted. Add in chicken broth and stir to combine.

Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes. Since you are not coking the dish in the oven, only browning the top, you want to make sure it’s nice and hot here and that the cheese sauce gets inside the elbow noodles.

Transfer mixture to broiler-safe 9-by 13-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs.

Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even browning. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.

Each time I make this recipe, I try to come up with a good side to go with it or a protein to round out the meal. Over the years I’ve given up on this because really, no side dish or protein can stand up to macaroni and cheese. And let’s be honest, when I’m craving this comfort dish, it’s all I want and anything else just gets in the way.

However if you’ve found a good side or protein dish that you like to serve with macaroni and cheese I’d love to hear about it.

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