Classic Macaroni and Cheese

Bow chica wow wow…Oh yes I did. This is pure and creamy deliciousness (in my best Barry White voice)…no room for guilt here. Macaroni and cheese isn’t something that I make on a regular basis. In fact, the only other time I’ve made homemade macaroni and cheese, I used Ina Garten’s recipe which called for more upscale (and expensive) cheeses. Sadly, it really missed the mark for me. What attracted me to this Cooks Illustrated recipe that I found on “Annies Eats” is that it uses straightforward, “non-stinky” cheeses and the other ingredients were all things I had on hand. No special trips to the store and it was a cinch to put together. The key to this version is really to under-cook the pasta so that it literally soaks up the cheese sauce as it bakes in the oven. This is pasta and cheese bliss!

Classic Macaroni and Cheese
Source: Adapted from Annies Eats

For the bread crumb topping:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp. dried parsley

For the Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb. pasta shells
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced (I used 2 teaspoons of garlic powder)
1 tsp. dry mustard
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3½ cups milk (I used 2%)
1 lb. colby jack cheese, shredded (pre-shredded is not recommended)
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I actually used shredded for this one and it was fine)
Ground black pepper
Salt (for pasta water)

First, make the panko topping. Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat and add the breadcrumbs. Toss until light golden brown. Remove the skillet from the heat and add in salt, pepper and parsley, rubbing the parsley a bit to release the oils. Remove the breadcrumb mixture from the hot skillet and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt and cook the pasta only for about 5 minutes, about half of the recommended cooking time for al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander and let it hang out for a bit while you prepare the cheese sauce.

Return the pot you cooked the pasta in onto the stove. Over medium heat melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for about one minute. Whisk in the chicken broth and milk until it starts to come to a bubble and thickens. This should take about 10 minutes. While you don’t need to stir this constantly while it thickens, don’t forget about it either. Be sure to give it a stir every minute or so. When you can draw a line with your finger through the sauce on the back of a spoon and it stays, you know the sauce is thick enough to add the cheeses. Stir the cheeses in until they are melted. At this point, taste the cheese sauce and add salt and pepper to your taste. Add in the pasta and stir to combine. Pour the cheesy pasta mixture into a lightly greased 9×13. Top with the breadcrumb mixture.

Place the 9×13 on a baking sheet lined with foil (it will bubble over) to protect your oven. Bake at 400 for about 25-35 minutes, just until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and the cheese is bubbly. If you can take it, let the mac and cheese sit for 10 minutes before enjoying.

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