The best way to make macaroni and cheese is a fiercely debated issue. There are basically two camps: creamy vs. baked. Within those camps you have hundreds of flavor variations and additions. Here is a recipe for classic cheddar macaroni and cheese. The mother recipe is the same whether you like it smooth and creamy, or with a crisp crust. I like to use buttered bread cubes as a topping instead of bread crumbs. The bread cubes are crispy, but have a buttery flavor that is extremely appealing. Try them both and see which one you like best!
- 4 T. butter
- 1/4 C. flour
- 2 C. 2% milk, warmed
- salt and pepper
- 3 C. shredded cheddar cheese, I used Tillamook Sharp Cheddar
- 1 lb. macaroni or other small pasta, boiled and drained
For the topping:
- 3 slices white sandwich bread, cubed
- 2 T. butter, melted
- 1/2 t. dried thyme
- salt and pepper
First get a big pot of water boiling and cook your pasta. If you plan to go the baked route, then you want to drain it about one or two minutes early. If you like the creamy route, drain it when the pasta is cooked to your liking. In a nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over it and whisk it into a paste. Cook for about two minutes, whisking to keep it smooth. You just made a roux! Roux is the base for tons of sauces and stews. When the roux begins to turn a nutty, golden color, whisk in the warm milk a little at a time. When you’ve mixed in all the milk, you should have a fairly thick gravy like sauce. Let the sauce simmer a few minutes if it’s too thin. Add the shredded cheese and whisk in until it’s all melted. Taste and adjust seasonings. You made cheese sauce!
If you had used parmesan you would have made Alfredo sauce. Toss in your drained macaroni and you have creamy macaroni and cheese ready to go. I garnished it with a few snipped chives.
If you want that crispy crust, pour the macaroni and cheese into a buttered casserole dish. To make the bread cubes, stack the slices of bread up and use a serrated knife to cut them into thin strips and then into little cubes. Toss the cubes with the melted butter, thyme, and a little salt and pepper and sprinkle them over the top of the macaroni. You can make this dish up to this point and cover and refrigerate or freeze. When you are ready to eat, bake the casserole in a 375 degree oven until the bread cubes are golden brown and the macaroni is hot throughout, about 30 minutes – double that if frozen.