Do I need to tell you how good this is? Really? Should I wax rhapsodic about the creaminess, the cheesiness, the perfectly al dente macaroni bathed in generous amounts of fresh cheddar and Romano? Must I mention that around the internet, this recipe is known as "crack and cheese*"? Or will you just take my word for it: the next time you need soul-comfort after a long day at work or with the kids, this is what your heart desires.
*Unfairly, it's also known as $30-mac-and cheese. Sure, if you use artisan cheddar and 8 oz. of Gruyere, it's a lot more than the blue box. But I used the on-sale cheddar and subbed the Romano, and it was very reasonable. It makes a ton, too, and reheats wonderfully.
Both boys love Kraft macaroni and cheese, because they are normal children. However, Jack really liked this recipe. Ben, on the other hand, asked if he could have just salad for dinner.
Macaroni and Cheese
6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp cheddar
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Romano
1 pound elbow macaroni
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish or 9x13 pan; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.
4. Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer's directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.