Macaroni and cheese that’s worth your time

mac&cheese

When I went to check my mailbox a couple weeks ago, I had a surprise waiting for me: a copy of bon appétit magazine. It turns out one of my friends got me a subscription for Christmas, but I didn’t know it until the first issue arrived.

The most recent edition is all about learning. They call it “The Cooking School Issue,” and I can see why. It’s full of handy tips that can help you get the most flavor out of your food, as well as some time-saving tips for weeknight meals. For example, have you ever tried to make homemade macaroni and cheese without boiling the pasta beforehand? I hadn’t, and it’s quite a time-saver, not to mention that it tastes much better than any kind from a box.

The magazine’s recipe for No-Boil Mac and Cheese called for making a thinner béchamel sauce as the base for the cheese sauce. Though the pasta cooked perfectly, I felt the cheese flavor was muted. I used Tillamook’s Mac & Cheese blend, which is a combination of shredded sharp cheddar, vintage white medium cheddar and medium cheddar. Next time, I’ll likely choose just sharp cheeses or add goat cheese or gruyere for more prominent flavor.

The recipe said to use a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan, but I opted to use my Dutch oven, which turned out to be a suitable choice. The depth of the pan didn’t seem to matter as much as the amount of liquid. For my own changes, I used regular breadcrumbs because the store didn’t have panko. If you can get your hands on panko, the crunch would provide nice texture. I also added cubed black forest ham I had left from the previous night’s dinner.

This was one of the least labor-intensive versions of macaroni and cheese I’ve ever made. I’ll be hanging on to this recipe.

Ingredients
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon kosher salt plus more
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more
1 pound elbow macaroni
2 cups shredded cheddar, divided
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 cups ham, cubed (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.

Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13-inch-by-9-inch-by-2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

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