This is my all-time most requested recipe. A close second is the “Italian Mac and Cheese” that I will share soon. There are so many different ways to make mac and cheese, I call this version “Yankee Mac and Cheese” because it uses a white sauce with flour and butter instead of eggs or evaporated milk. It’s a bit fussy to make the roux and mix in the flour but the results are worth it. Also, you can mess around with the cheeses and seasonings. One thing I do strongly recommend is grating your own cheese rather than using the pre-shredded. I have made this so many times both ways and grating your own really does have more flavor in the end.
1 box (16oz) elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
8 ounces Gruyere, grated (2 cups) or Parmesan (1/2 cup)
12 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (4 cups) I use Cabot Seriously Sharp
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Add the macaroni to boiling salted water (about a tablespoon added after the boil). Cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well. If you’re going to make ahead and bake just before dinner, rinse the noodles to cool them off.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in the microwave for 5 minutes at 50 percent power. You don’t want it boiling, just warmed up a bit. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. While stirring, add the milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Use a whisk to smooth out lumps if you need. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 2 teaspoons salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the bread crumbs are browned on top.