I haven't always gotten the best results with recipes from Martha Stewart (e.g. the sugar cookie recipe I used for the rainbow cookies), but her recipe for macaroni and cheese is so tried and true that I had to use it. This is pretty much a no-frills recipe: straight up macaroni baked in a cheese sauce with only some buttered bread crumbs for garnish. I was tempted to add caramelized onions, herbs, and at the very least, use some bacon fat in there, but I resisted (mostly because I was bringing this to a potluck and there were going to be some vegetarians there). The only change I made was that I used the last foot or so of my baguette instead of white bread for the bread crumbs.
makes 12 servings
2 cups bread crumbs, diced into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated pecorino Romano
1 pound elbow macaroni
Heat the oven to 375ºF. Butter a 9"x12" baking dish; set aside.
Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. Melt 2 tablespoons butter, pour over the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup pecorino Romano. Set cheese sauce aside.
Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer's directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.)
Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top.
Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.
Even without any additions, I loved the result. The cheddar and pecorino were sharp and strong, and the cayenne pepper added just the right amount of kick. By undercooking the pasta by 2-3 minutes and finishing it up in the oven with the cheese sauce, the macaroni stays nice and firm and not mushy at all. And the bread crumbs add a good amount of crunch for a change in texture. Still, I think a little bacon fat in there would have been lovely. ^_^