by Kelsey Nixon
Serves: 6 to 8 •Prep: 15 minutes •Cook Time: 25 minutes
Homemade macaroni and cheese is one of those from-scratch dishes that is always worth the extra time; in about half an hour you can have a meal that puts the boxed stuff to shame. The key is a classic white sauce, or béchamel, the base for the creamy cheese sauce that the noodles will swim in. Once you learn how to make a béchamel, you can make creamy sauces for life. And making one is incredibly simple. For me, the success of this dish rests entirely with the combination of cheeses and finding the right balance of nutty, salty, and creamy. For years, my winning combination has been sharp cheddar, Muenster, and Parmesan. The resulting sauce is crazy delicious.
1 pound elbow macaroni
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk, scalded
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste (2 cups)
½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
½ pound Muenster cheese, shredded (2 cups)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.
- 2. In a heavy saucepan or extra-large skillet set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the paste cooks and bubbles a bit, about 2 minutes (make sure it doesn’t brown). Add 3 cups of the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Stir in the dry mustard and cayenne, then gradually add the cheddar and Muenster cheeses, stirring constantly until all of the cheese has melted into the sauce. Stir in the remaining 1-cup milk. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- 3. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the top with the Parmesan cheese and parsley. Serve immediately.
- BUFFALO CHICKEN MAC AND CHEESE: Stir 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken mixed with a few dashes of hot sauce into the cheese sauce just before adding the pasta. Substitute crumbled blue cheese for the Parmesan cheese.
- FRENCH ONION SOUP MAC AND CHEESE:Substitute ½ pound shredded Gruyère cheese for the Muenster. In a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, melt ¼ cup butter, then add 1 thinly sliced yellow onion. Cook until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Fold into the mixture with the cooked pasta.
- LOBSTER MAC AND CHEESE: Fold in 1½ pounds cooked lobster meat to the finished macaroni and cheese, reserving a few pieces of lobster to garnish the top, if desired.
Used with permission. Taken from Kitchen Confidence: Essential Recipes and Tips That Will Help You Cook Anything (Clarkson Potter, 2014), by Kelsey Nixon. CLICK HERE FOR A FEW MORE OF OUR FAVORITE KELSEY NIXON RECIPES