So, in our year together, I think we’ve established that that I don’t throw around the words “Best Ever” unless I mean it. At least, I hope you know that. In fact, in my time blogging, I have only used that word once (see the link above), and it was as appropriate then as it is now.
Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to the best-ever, most satisfying, delicious, oops-I-just-ate-my-third-helping-and-I’m-probably-going-to-eat-a-fourth mac and cheese recipe I have ever encountered. I fiddled with a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks until it barely resembled the original. And now, when I crave mac and cheese, I crave this one. In fact, any mac and cheese dish I have ever ordered or tasted gets sized up in comparison to this one. And since I think of it so fondly, I figured you probably should, too.
As per usual with my favorite recipes, I do have some tips:
1. Whole milk is best. Heavy cream is too much, and anything with less fat is too little. Thank goodness for in-betweens.
2. Extra sharp cheddar is the way to go. The sharper it is, the more flavor you get.
3. Prep everything ahead of time before you even start cooking the noodles. Have the garlic minced, the scallions chopped, the cheese divided, the bread crumbs prepared, everything! And have it neatly organized in bowls, because once you get the sauce going you don’t have a whole lot of time to be prepping. The roux (a combination of butter and flour, which you brown to create a thickener for creamy sauces) is a time-sensitive, delicate, and delicious thing-I’d venture to say it is the most important part of this recipe-and it needs your fullest attention. Make sure everything else is ready so you can add the ingredients to the roux when it is ready for them, and not the other way around.
4. Now that we’ve gotten the serious stuff out of the way: enjoy this. Happiness, I think, is about simple pleasures. While I fully acknowledge that this recipe requires an organized kitchen and multi-tasking skills, any stress you may have encountered will drift away into the past where you can forget about it; the end result of your hard work is what I consider to be the biggest helping of cheesy comfort you can find.
I mean this sincerely. Here is one of my favorite recipes. I know you’re going to love it.
One Year: Honey Buttermilk Biscuits.
Best-Ever Mac and Cheese
Adapted from Bon Appetit: Fast Easy Fresh
Makes 6-9 servings
16 oz dried elbow noodles, ziti (my favorite for this recipe), mostaccioli (pictured above), or penne noodles
2 slices wheat bread
4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
2 scallions (whites and light green parts only), thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Prep all ingredients first (mis en place = everything in place!). Cook the noodles in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Meanwhile, grind bread in food processor into fine crumbs; transfer to a small bowl. Melt butter in a medium saucepan, then mix 1 tbsp of the melted butter into the crumbs. Mix in 1 cup of the grated cheddar cheese into the crumbs and set aside. Add flour to the remaining butter in the saucepan; whisk over medium heat for 2 minutes, until the flour has fully incorporated and browned slightly. Gradually whisk in the milk and broth, then bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Add green onions and garlic, then whisk 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Add cheese; stir until melted, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Preheat broiler (or, depending on what type of oven you have, make sure it’s about 450 degrees Fahrenheit on broil). Mix the pasta into the cheese sauce. Spoon into a broiler-proof 8 x 8 x 2* square pan. Sprinkle the cheesy bread crumbs evenly over the pasta and broil until the crumbs brown, about 2 minutes. Serve.
*You can also use a 9 x 13 pan for thinner servings. I just like mine as goopy and loaded with the cheese-breadcrumb mixture as possible!