Comfort food at its most luxurious – baked mac and cheese with a crispy seasoned bread crumb topping and the easiest make-ahead option. Some days, nothing else will do.
I had the best intentions of sharing a healthy, spring recipe with you this week. Something with lots of green and lightness. But, well, here we are.
I think that says enough about the week right there, no?
It’s OK, though, because honestly, everyone needs a faithful, classic mac and cheese recipe that also happens to produce the out of this world most delicious thing you can possibly imagine putting in your mouth. And this is one of those recipes.
As a side benefit, it’s simple and requires no fancy techniques or ingredients. Make the pasta, take it swimming in an outrageously cheesy sauce, give it a crispy bread crumb lid, and bake it all for good measure.
Even better yet, this recipe is so easy to make ahead, and there is zero degrading of flavor. Prep everything, cover in foil, refrigerate, and bake when ready. It also makes quite a bit of food and reheats beautifully, which is why it was on our menu this week – cook once, eat (at least) twice – a perfect choice when time is short or nonexistent some nights.
That said, I’m a teeny bit embarrassed to say that the picture right above this is the damage my little family of three (and one is a toddler) managed to do on the first round. Yikes! Oh well. You can see that it’s a family favorite!
In defense of my husband and I, I’m confident the toddler ate at least as much of it as we did for dinner. And this is why we run and cycle and swim. Life’s about balance, right?
And my balance definitely includes this mac and cheese. Enjoy!
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Classic Make-Ahead Mac and Cheese
- 1 tbsp. kosher salt plus more to taste
- 1 lb. (500g) pasta
- 6 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 3 medium garlic cloves minced or pressed
- 1 tsp. dry mustard
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 3 1/2 cups milk
- 1 lb. gouda cheese shredded
- 8 oz. emmenthal cheese shredded
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup Italian bread crumbs for topping
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 C). Lightly grease a large rectangular baking dish with butter or cooking spray; set aside.
- Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven set over high heat. Add 1 tbsp. salt and the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally to minimize sticking, for 5 minutes, until the pasta has just begun to soften. Drain pasta and set aside.
- Return the pot to medium heat and add the butter. When butter has melted, add the garlic, mustard, and cayenne. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute, until the flour takes on a lightly golden color. Slowly whisk in the broth and milk, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, whisking frequently, until large bubbles form on the surface and the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat, stir in the shredded cheese until completely melted, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Mix the drained pasta into the cheese sauce, stirring to break up any clumps, until well-combined. Pour mixture into the baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with bread crumbs.
- Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are crisp. Allow to cool slightly and serve.
- This works beautifully as a make-ahead meal - in fact it’s one of my absolute favorite make-ahead options. To prepare in advance, after pouring the pasta-cheese mixture into the baking dish, cover the entire dish tightly with aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days. When ready to serve, bake the covered dish in a 400 degree F (200 C) oven for 35-40 minutes, until the filling is hot throughout. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the bread crumbs are crisp.
- You can use any type of pasta; shells, spirals, or cavatappi work especially well. You want something with ridges, nooks, or crannys to hold lots of delicious cheese sauce!
- Feel free to substitute 1 lb. colby jack and 8 oz. sharp or extra sharp cheddar for the gouda and emmenthal, based on availability or your own preferences. Both combinations are outstanding!
Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated