If you are anything like me, seeing that picture of melty cheesy goodness over pasta just made your mouth water. Mac and cheese is honestly the most wonderful creation that has ever been created. It is hands down my favorite food group. Yes, I consider it its own food group. It is the true definition of comfort food.
I am such a lover of mac and cheese than when my daughter was first introduced to it as a baby and she didn’t like it, I actually thought she may have been switched in the hospital. It was not genetically possible for me to have a mac and cheese hating child. Thankfully she came to her senses quickly, and I am happy to say that mac and cheese is now her favorite food as well. Phew!
Over the years I have played around with how I make it. I have tried different cheeses, different amounts of cheese, different amounts of milk, etc., until I settled on the recipe below.
I like to use a combination of extra sharp cheddar and gruyere cheeses. I use the entire 8 oz. block of cheddar, and a little more than half of the block of gruyere. It is best to use block cheese, not pre-shredded. I did not shred the cheese for this batch, I just cut the cheese up into small chunks and it melted just as well.
I start the sauce a few minutes before I put the pasta in to cook. The sauce usually takes about 8-10 minutes. Use a pound of pasta, and any pasta will do. For this classic mac and cheese recipe, I tend to use elbow pasta.
The first step in making the cheese sauce is to create a roux. A roux is a mixture of flour and fat (butter) to use as a thickener for a sauce. Some recipes I have seen only call for a small amount of flour, but I always use enough to make a very thick roux. I actually added a little more flour after I took the picture below. I have never measured how much flour I use, I just keeping adding small amounts until it gets to the proper consistency.
Melt 4 tbsp. of butter in a sauce pan over low to medium heat. Add salt and pepper to taste, and about 1/4 tsp. ground mustard. You can use actual mustard as well, which I have done many times. Whisk in flour constantly until you get a thick roux and cook while whisking for about a minute.
The important thing to remember is not to stop whisking. The sauce will burn on the bottom very quickly.
While whisking, add 3 cups of milk until it starts to thicken. It will take about 3-5 minutes. Don’t forget, keep whisking!
Once your sauce has started to thicken and bubble a little, add the cheese. Keep whisking and cooking until all of the cheese has melted. By now your pasta should be cooked.
Drain the pasta and pour into a greased casserole dish. Pour that heavenly cheese sauce over the pasta and mix well.
If you don’t have time to make a baked mac and cheese, you can just add the sauce to the pasta and serve as is. Sometimes I prefer to make an unbaked version, or as we call it “a big bowl of cheesy yummy”. When I am not going to bake it I usually use medium shells pasta, it’s just my personal preference.
For the crumb topping, melt about 2-3 tbsps. of butter in a bowl, add about a cup of panko bread crumbs, and about 1 tbsp. of grated parmesan cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the top to cover all of the pasta. Bake at 350 degrees covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5-10 more minutes until bubbly and the crumbs start to brown.
Then dig in! Nom, nom nom!