I’m sorry. I know, this isn’t right. Not fair. Totally cruel. We’re just weeks from bathing suit season and this here is no friend to lycra.
But I had to. I promised you this and I had to make it right.
You see, I gave you a recipe last year for something that was honest-to-goodness-ly the easiest macaroni-and-cheese recipe ever invented. There was no bechamel and you didn’t even have to preboil the pasta. Oh, and it didn’t taste half-bad either. I was pretty sure I’d died and gone to mac-and-cheese heaven and from rereading all of your comments today, it seems that many of you agreed.
But when I made it for a second time in January, something wasn’t right. Oh, it still tasted awesome but I noticed that the leftovers didn’t reheat well. Real cheese–and not Velveeta or other eerily stable cheese products–really doesn’t like to be melted, cooled and remelted again. It needs something to help it stay creamy, to help suspend it and that thing is quite often a bechamel–milk thickened with a bit of cooked flour and butter.
So I turned to the one recipe I had heard from ten thousand people (and their mothers) was the bee’s knees. Cat’s meow. A triumph of the macaroni-and-cheese spirit and do you know what? It was all that and then some. This macaroni-and-cheese recipe might be the best thing since both macaroni and cheese. Even better, it passes the most important test: it reheats like a charm, staying creamy and ohmahgaahblaa…
I just melted into a puddle remembering how good it was. Seriously, why haven’t you made this yet?
Note: There are three macaroni-and-cheese recipes on this site and this is not an accident. Each has its own purpose. The Quick, Essential Stovetop Mac-and-Cheese is exactly as it sounds, a way better than boxed weeknight savior, and it takes, at most, 3 minutes longer to make (the 3 minutes you grate the cheese.) The Easiest Baked Mac-and-Cheese is the miraculous hands-off one, not as luxurious as this, nor as quick as the stovetop. I use it most often as a side dish dish or as part of a spread when having people over (ribs and other summer fare, or for Thanksgiving) when there are too many other things to make to make a fussier one. This, however, is the mic drop of the macaroni-and-cheese category, the one you make when only the very best will do, is It’s centerpiece material.
One year ago: Corniest Corn Muffins
Martha Stewart’s Creamy Mac-and-Cheese
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics
Now, please be warned, this makes a ton-a mac-and-cheese. Not interested in going on an all-mac, all-the-time diet this week, but wishing to try the recipe at last, I halved it and guess what? We still had three dinner’s worth of mac-and-cheese, or a full six servings. Which is, of course, what the recipe said it would make if halved, but I was in denial.
This is particularly delicious with a big, crunchy salad and a steamed vegetable, like green beans or broccoli.
[New in April 2016: Fresh photos! Except they show a double batch being made. 1/2 went in the usual big 9×13 dish, the rest was divided over 3 1-quart baking dishes, such as the one shown on top. (Big one went to a party, a small one stayed home and the other two went into the freezer.) Fret not about that overly full 5-quart Dutch oven, that will only happen if you’re insane enough to make the double volume.]
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (though we needed a bit more time to get it brown, but your oven may vary). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.