Friday, April 2, 2010

My Favorite Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 6


6 Tbl butter, divided, plus more for buttering the casserole dish
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs (from about 4-5 slices white bread, crusts removed)
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese, divided
1 # coarsely grated cheddar cheese, divided
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided, plus more for salting the pasta water
1/2 tsp black pepper, divided
1/2 # macaroni
3 Tbl flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk, warm
pinch cayenne

Preheat the oven to 400°F with the rack in the middle.  Generously butter a 9x13-inch casserole dish. 
Make the bread crumb crust: Add the bread crumbs to a medium mixing bowl.  Melt 2 Tbl butter and pour over the bread crumbs.  Stir with a rubber spatula to combine.  Add 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup grated cheddar, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.  Stir to combine.  Set aside. 

Next, cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  (Add enough salt so that the water tastes like the ocean.)  Add the macaroni and stir.  Boil until just tender but still firm, stirring occasionally to keep the noodles from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Drain in a colander and rinse under cool running water. Drain well and set aside. 

Now, make the cheese sauce:  Over medium-low heat, melt the remaining 4 Tbl butter in a large sauce pot or Dutch oven.  Add the flour and cook about three minutes, stirring with a whisk.  Add about a third of the warm milk and whisk until smooth.  Add half of the remaining milk and whisk until smooth.  Add the rest of the milk and whisk until smooth.  (Slowly adding the milk like this, and whisking in between additions, will insure a smooth sauce.  So will using warm milk instead of cold.)  Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat to medium or medium-low, to bring the sauce down to a simmer.  Simmer for about 3-4 minutes, whisking frequently.  Add the remaining 1/2 cup parmesan, about 2/3 of the remaining grated cheddar, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.  Whisk until the cheese is melted.  Add the cooked macaroni and stir to combine with a spatula.

Assemble the mac & cheese: Pour half of the macaroni mixture into the prepared casserole.  Sprinkle evenly with half of the remaining cheddar.  Pour in the rest of the macaroni mixture, smoothing it with a rubber spatula, then top evenly with the rest of the cheddar.  Sprinkle the prepared breadcrumbs evenly over the top.  Bake, uncovered, until the bread crumbs are golden brown, about 30 minutes. Rest at room temperature, about five minutes, before serving.




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