I’m not one of those people who’s on the search for “the best” macaroni and cheese. Don’t get me wrong, I love macaroni and cheese, and would like nothing more than to be a professional taste-tester for every version, but it’s just not feasible for me to make something like this even remotely frequently. The second I start shredding cheese and melting butter, my thighs expand.
So when I find a good recipe for things like this, I stick to it. And that’s what happened with this recipe. It’s creamy, it’s delicious, it has a nice crunchy baked topping. It’s my go-to macaroni and cheese recipe.
I don’t make any substitutions to health-ify this dish. It’s rare for me to make something as carb/fat dense as this, but what the hell. It’s fine every once in a while, right? Well, okay, technically I used the Smart Balance 50/50 butter blend because it was in my fridge, but that’s it. Not even whole wheat pasta! My husband was shocked to see enriched elbow macaroni in our kitchen. He actually asked me “how many cals” he was eating (because every once in a while he counts calories for about 2 days and stops)…but then he also asked why I wasn’t adding bacon to it. Hmm.
Full fat mac and cheese and all, I did want to keep my portion to a minimum, so I made this with some barbecued chicken and a salad. I cut the recipe in half, which still yielded quite a bit. I wouldn’t say it’s 10 servings, but it’s definitely 8ish (for more of a side than a main dish).
I did add some dry mustard to the sauce (because I feel like macaroni and cheese needs a little) and switched out the Parmesan for Pecorino Romano because that’s always what I keep in my fridge. It’s sharper and I just love it.
Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Gourmet
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup panko or 1.5 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from 3 slices firm white sandwich bread)
2 oz. coarsely grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
For macaroni and sauce
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. flour
2.5 cups whole milk
8 oz. coarsely grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 (heaping) tsp. dry mustard
1/2 lb. elbow macaroni
Preheat the oven to 400 and place a rack in the middle. Grease a shallow 2 qt. baking dish.
To make the topping, melt the butter and then stir together with the panko, 2 oz. cheddar and 1/4 cup romano cheese until well combined.
To make the sauce: melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat, and then stir in the flour. Cook roux, stirring, 3 minutes, and then slowly whisk in milk. Bring the sauce to a boil, whisking frequently, and then simmer, whisking occasionally, 3-4 minutes. Stir in cheeses, salt, pepper, and dry mustard until smooth.
Meanwhile, cook macaroni in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water and then drain macaroni.
Stir together the macaroni, reserved cooking water, and cheese sauce. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the macaroni and cheese and bake until golden and bubbling, 20-25 minutes.