YIELD: SERVES ABOUT 6 PREP: 30 MINS COOK: 30 MINS TOTAL: 1 HOUR
The best mac and cheese! Seriously. Creamy, cheesy, straightforward, ooey, gooey – this recipe will knock your socks off.
8 oz. (1/2 pound or about 1 3/4 cups) macaroni or other medium tubular pasta (like penne or conchiglie)*
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika plus more for sprinkling on top
2 1/2 cups 2% milk
3 cups (approx. 12 ounces) grated medium cheddar cheese**
Boil the pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, and return to the pan you boiled it in. Set aside. (Mix in a little butter to keep the noodles from sticking if it’s going to be awhile before you make the sauce)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
To a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the flour, salt, dry mustard, pepper, and 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika. With a wooden spoon or whisk, stir constantly for three minutes.
Add the milk in a thin stream, stirring constantly with a whisk. Continue to stir constantly until the sauce thickens, about 10-12 minutes.
Remove from heat and add 2 cups of the cheese, stirring until melted. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and toss gently until all of the pasta is coated.
Add half the pasta to a two-quart casserole dish (I like a tall 8-inch by 8-inch baking dish). Sprinkle on half the cheese. Add the rest of the pasta. Sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, then dust lightly with the smoked paprika.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the mac and cheese starts getting a slightly dry and a tiny bit brown on top. Serve, topping individual servings with cooked, chopped bacon if desired.
Add cooked and crumbled bacon to the top of individual servings (or the whole thing if your whole clan is carnivorous).
PLEASE RESIST ADDING MORE PASTA AND CHEESE!
*Please resist the urge to add more pasta to stretch the recipe. You need a lot of sauce with that pasta because the pasta soaks so much and it otherwise cooks down. Over-dry mac and cheese is such a disappointment – don’t do it!
**Also resist the urge to add more cheese to the sauce. This can do weird things. Sprinkle more in between and on top if you must have more cheese.
DOUBLING THIS RECIPE
I (and many others) have doubled this recipe with success – no changes needed other than a bigger pan!
When you make this recipe ahead of time, please know the result may be a tad more dry. Still delicious! But a little less saucy. I recommend assembling it up to the point of baking, refrigerating, then, before baking, let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Then proceed with baking.