Recipes for a nice, comforting batch of macaroni and cheese can quickly go from inspirationally gooey to a tragic cheese casserole of mush, with overcooking being a huge problem. To end up a nice creamy smooth cheese sauce simply requires a low temperature, the right blend of melt-able cheeses and a fair amount of patience – basically a roux. There is really no need to take the “easy way out” by using velveeta, creme fraiche, cream cheese, egg, or the many other creaming agents people sometimes swear by. The higher fat content in European butter helps a little to make up for these ingredients.
When it comes to the actual pasta we have all been in mac-n-cheese situations which have served us mini shells, penne, fusili spirals, cavatappi spirals, campanelle, and even armoniche. While I appreciate their urge for creativity, I find that nothing is more comforting than the classic, smooth elbow macaroni. Slightly undercooking the pasta before baking is quite common but I urge you to cook it even less than the normal instructions for al dente, to account for the baking process. You will end up with elbow macaroni that retains its shape and swimming in a pool of rich, creamy melted cheese topped with a slight crunch of panko bread crumbs and black pepper.
- 2 cups dried elbow macaroni pasta
- 4 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon unsalted European butter, divided
- 1 cup whole milk
- 4 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 4 ounces Colby cheese (not Colby Jack) or Double Glouster
- 4 ounces Gouda cheese
- 4 ounces Swiss Gruyere cheese
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- In medium saucepan, boil macaroni until half cooked, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta, and mix in 1 tablespoon of European butter. Set aside and let cool.
- Grate cheeses and combine into one mixture. Set aside.
- In a large sauce pan combine remaining European butter with milk. Heat on low, stirring constantly until butter is melted and mixture is scalding, but never boiling. Add flour and stir constantly over low heat with a whisk until roux becomes thick enough to feel some resistance when stirring and there is no trace of any flour-like texture. Fold in salt, mustard and black pepper.
- While maintaining the low, below-boiling temperature, gradually add cheese mixture in thirds while constantly mixing with whisk to ensure that with each addition yields a smooth cheese sauce consistency without any lumps. After all cheese is thoroughly mixed, remove from heat.
- Stir half-cooked pasta into cheese sauce and pour into oven proof skillet or 9″inch round skillet or square casserole dish. Sprinkle top with panko breadcrumbs and extra ground black pepper if desired.
- Bake on 300 degrees in center of oven just until small bubbles are emerging on the sides, 15 – 20 minutes. Time might vary slightly between ovens. It’s extremely important not to over-cook because the cheese will separate into a stiff and oily mess. Do not be fooled by the seemingly lack of cooking happening on the surface because there is plenty of reward happening below.