Mac n’ cheese is my favorite food ever. Sure, I love pie. I love an array of Asian foods. In the end, my favorite thing to eat — whether homemade or out of the blue box — is macaroni and cheese. It is just so… perfect. Cheesy upon cheesy upon more cheesy. If I wouldn’t make a total mess of my top and ruin some perfectly good mac n’ cheese, I would hug it.
Despite my love for mac n’ cheese, I never really make it from scratch too often. I made it once when my husband (then boyfriend) and I first moved in together. I stupidly followed the recipe *exactly* and dumped WAY too many breadcrumbs on top because THE RECIPE SAID. It wasn’t very good… although, a bad mac n’ cheese is still mac n’ cheese in the end. I’ve come a long way since then (I learned that following recipes is dumb) and decided to tackle mac n’ cheese again.
This is actually based on Martha Stewart’s recipe with a few minor adjustments. Yeah, I’m that fancy. I make Martha Stewart’s mac n’ cheese. You can be fancy like me too… if you can handle it. The first time I made this, I made it just for Mike and me. I will neither confirm nor deny whether I ate this mac n’ cheese for 5 consecutive meals. The second time I made it, I made this recipe for a potluck lunch in my office. I will neither confirm nor deny that I made a little batch just for myself and ate it for 4 consecutive lunches. And yes, there is a chance that these two incidents were only a few weeks apart. I…um… can’t remember.
Anyway… one of the best cooks in my office not only told me she loved it, but said, “You can tell how much you love mac n’ cheese… you really made it like you love it.” That was a pretty awesome compliment, if you ask me.
Best Ever Macaroni and Cheese
You can easily divide this recipe in half.
- 1/2-3/4 cup of panko bread crumbs (they have a great crunch — use any kind of bread crumbs you like)
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
- 5 1/2 cups milk (skim works just fine, so save yourself the fat)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (I used 1/8 tsp)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I used 1/8 tsp)
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (Leave this out if you don’t want the heat)
- 4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp cheddar
- 2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or Monterey jack (I made it with Gruyère once and Jack cheese once and it was great both times. Jack is WAY cheaper, so I’ll probably stick with that in the future)
- 1 pound radiatore pasta (or whatever kind of pasta you like — the radiatore’s groves really held onto all that cheese sauce)
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside.
2. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add pasta; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer’s directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the pasta to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well.
3. (Since I used panko, I skipped this part. For the panko, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan. Add 1/2-3/4 cup of panko and toast until coated in butter and golden brown. Set aside.
4. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
5. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
6. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or Monterey Jack. Set cheese sauce aside. (Adjust the seasonings to your liking. I thought the full amount of nutmeg and black pepper was too strong, so I cut it in half.)
7. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
8. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or Monterey Jack ; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.
You’re going to love this recipe. It is rich, creamy and oh-so-cheesy. It is excellent on day one… it is excellent reheated for 5 consecutive meals. I promise.