My very own version of the classic baked mac and cheese.
- 4 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 4 tbsp butter
- 4½ cups whole milk, or half & half
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp granulated garlic
- ½ tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp dry mustard (optional)
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- ½ cup seasoned Italian or Japanese breadcrumbs (optional)
- 1 lb dried pasta of your choice (see note below)
- kosher salt (for the pasta water)
Cheeses I use (see note below):
- 1 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- ½ cup pecorino-romano cheese (optional)
- 1 cup shredded gruyere cheese
- 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 cups shredded fontina cheese, plus a few pieces cut into cubes
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
- Butter a 9×13 or 8×11 baking dish and set to the side. You can use cooking spray instead.
- Boil your pasta in water seasoned with plenty of salt (about a tablespoon) for about 4 to 5 minutes. You want it undercooked because it will continue cooking in the oven when you bake it. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the macaroni and quickly rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Let it sit and drain while you make the cheese sauce. You may not need the reserved pasta water, but it’s good to have just in case your cheese mixture gets a little too thick and gloopy.
- In one heavy bottom pot or large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. When it starts to foam and bubble, add the flour and immediately whisk so that it forms a paste. Allow this to cook for about 1 minute to get the “raw” flour taste out, whisking frequently.
- SLOWLY add 2 cups of the milk (or half & half) while whisking constantly to remove any large lumps. Continue to whisk until smooth and thick, about 20 seconds. Add the remaining 2½ cups of milk (or half & half) and continue to whisk until smooth. Increase the heat to medium-high to allow the mixture to simmer and thicken, about 5 minutes. Season the mixture while it thickens and taste as you go. If the sauce is yummy alone, just imagine how incredible it will be once you add the cheese.
- Once your mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, add in the parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino and gruyere cheese and remove from the heat. Taste it again, season if you need to.
- Toss the cheese sauce with the pasta, and taste to season if need be. Don’t panic if there’s more sauce than pasta, you’re going to spoon it into the baking dish, so you’ll be able to control the cheese sauce/pasta ratio. As you’re layering, it’ll start to thicken up even more. On the flipside, if your mixture is too thick, add a bit of the reserved pasta water to the sauce coated pasta to thin it out. You want it smooth and creamy, but not incredibly soupy and watery.
- Ladle a layer of the coated pasta into your prepared baking dish, then sprinkle a layer of the remaining cheeses and repeat until all of the pasta and cheese is used up — lasagna style. This is where you can “eyeball” your cheese portions. Use more or less, it’s totally up to you. Too much cheese can be a problem because it’ll make it too oily and clumpy, so don’t go too nuts with the cheese.
- Run a spoon thru the entire mixture just to lightly mix in the cheese throughout the entire dish. Smooth the mixture with the back of a spoon just until its relatively even on top, and sprinkle a thin layer of seasoned bread crumbs on top for an amazing and tasty crunch, if you’d like. The breadcrumb crust also acts as a barrier to keep the cheese from drying out by helping to keep it moist. But again, you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to.
- Bake on the center rack of your oven for about 20 to 35 minutes or until the center is bubbly and the entire dish is golden brown.
- Let it cool for about 10 minutes before you dive into it.
- Enjoy, and make this again and again until you nail it 😉
*You may or may not use ALL of the cheese measurements. If you have any cheese leftover, seal it tightly in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for later use. Alternately, you could add all of your cheeses to the white sauce and skip the “layering” method, it’s totally up to you.
**If you have ANY questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I realize this is an extensive recipe, but once you make it, you’ll see how truly simple and easy it is. I want you guys to get it right, so ask away if anything is unclear
***As far as choosing the right pasta goes, try sticking with the more traditional tubular shapes such as elbow, ziti, penne, cavatappi, capanelle, or something similar. Avoid pasta shapes that won’t hold onto the sauce well, like spaghetti or linguini, or even small shells in some cases.