Crispy Baked Macaroni & Cheese

This recipe for Mac Cheese is probably one of the best for basic baked macaroni and cheese with a crispy crust made from Panko crumbs and parmesan cheese.
Photo by Lori K.
Adapted from foodnetwork.com

PREP TIME

20

minutes

TOTAL TIME

50

minutes

SERVINGS

6

servings

PREP TIME

20

minutes

TOTAL TIME

50

minutes

SERVINGS

6

servings

Adapted from foodnetwork.com

Ingredients

  • 6

    tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the dish

  • Kosher salt

  • 8

    ounces mini penne pasta

  • 1/4

    cup all-purpose flour

  • 2

    cups whole milk

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

  • 1 1/2

    cups grated monterey jack cheese (about 4 ounces)

  • 1 1/2

    cups grated gruyere cheese (about 4 ounces)

  • 1

    cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 3 ounces)

  • 1/2

    cup panko breadcrumbs

  • 2

    tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

  • Variation:

  • Martha Stewart's Mac & Cheese from Food 52 (serves 12):

  • 8

    tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish

  • 6

    slices good white bread, crusts removed, torn or diced into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces

  • 5 1/2

    cups milk

  • 1/2

    cup all-purpose flour

  • 2

    teaspoons salt

  • 1/4

    teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • 1/4

    teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/4

    teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

  • 4 1/2

    cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese (about 18 ounces)

  • 2

    cups grated Gruyere cheese (about 8 ounces) or 1 1/4 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 5 ounces)

  • 1

    pound elbow macaroni (or other small pasta shape)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish; set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs for al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water, then drain. Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking, until smooth and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth. Add the bay leaf, cayenne and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, whisking occasionally, until the sauce comes to a simmer and thickens slightly, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove the bay leaf from the sauce and whisk in the monterey jack, gruyere and cheddar one cheese at a time, allowing each cheese to melt before adding more. Add the pasta and stir until coated, adding the reserved cooking water as needed to loosen (the sauce will thicken as it bakes). Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the microwave. Add the panko, parmesan and a pinch of salt; stir to combine. Scatter over the pasta and bake until the crumbs are browned and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. Variation: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter (alternately, melt butter in the microwave). Pour butter into bowl with bread, and toss. Set breadcrumbs aside. Pull out 1 1/2 cups of grated cheddar, and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, and reserve. Fill a large pot with water; bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer's directions, until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Set aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. In the same pot you used for boiling the pasta, melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, whisking, 1 minute. While whisking, slowly pour in hot milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick. Remove pan from heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup Pecorino Romano. Stir reserved macaroni into the cheese sauce. Pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, and breadcrumbs over top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. If after 30 minutes, it's not browned to your liking, broil the topping rather than leaving it in the oven, which may cause the pasta to overcook and sauce to dry out. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes; serve hot.

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