The best macaroni and cheese in the world should be comforting and filling, as well as gooey with plenty of melted cheese. Different recipes use different cheeses, and you can doubtless find one that features your favorite. Additional ingredients might be garlic or bacon which can either add flavor or detract from the simplicity of your childhood favorite. These different recipes all share a few things in common: macaroni, cheese and utter deliciousness.
For the classic dish, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 13 by 9 inch baking dish. Then combine 12 ounces of grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese and 12 ounces of grated American or regular cheddar cheese. Set aside two cups of the cheese mixture for topping the casserole. Cook one pound of “shorty” pasta; use elbow macaroni, penne, fusilli, gemelli, campanelle or whatever shape strikes your fancy. Boil the pasta in salted water until tender, and then drain and rinse under cold water. Mix together the cooked pasta, cheese mixture, salt to taste and an optional eighth of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Place this mixture in the casserole dish and pour two thirds of a cup of whole milk over it. Sprinkle the two cups of reserved cheese on top and bake the dish uncovered for 45 minutes. Then raise the heat to 400 degrees and bake an additional 15 minutes until the macaroni and cheese is crusty on top.
Try using Italian cheeses rather than English cheddar and American cheese for a different flavor. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter your casserole dish. Prepare a pound of ziti or other short pasta in salted water until al dente (that is, mostly tender yet still firm to the bite), and then drain and set it aside. Meanwhile, melt five tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Then whisk in a quarter cup of all-purpose flour and keep stirring for another minute of cooking time. Slowly add in two and a half cups of whole milk and cook another minute or two. (You want it to thicken slightly, with the consistency of heavy cream.) Next you’ll add in five ounces of crumbled blue Gorgonzola with 4 ounces of Fontina cheese, cubed. Season the mixture with a pinch of nutmeg, salt and black pepper, remove it from the heat, and stir it into the bowl of cooked pasta. Then add in four ounces of cubed mozzarella cheese. Pour into the prepared casserole dish and sprinkle the top with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese and a pinch of paprika. Bake the macaroni and cheese for about 30 minutes, or until the top is browned.
If the simple combination of macaroni and cheese isn’t enough to satisfy you, try a variation that uses garlic, bacon and Panko bread crumbs to add extra excitement. Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Cook three pieces of bacon and reserve one tablespoon of the fat. Then wrap two peeled shallots and three garlic cloves drizzled with olive oil with aluminum foil and roast 20 to 30 minutes, until the shallots are tender. Remove the foil pouch from the oven, chop the contents, and set them aside. In a large saucepan, reheat the bacon fat over medium heat and add the shallots and garlic, and then sauté for about a minute. Add in two tablespoons of flour and stir. Whisk in four cups of heavy cream and a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme.
Cook until reduced by a third. Stir in one cup of shredded pepper jack cheese and two cups shredded cheddar cheese. Stir until the cheeses are melted and creamy and season it with salt and pepper to taste. As the sauce is cooking, prepare a pound of pasta, such as penne, by boiling it in salted water and draining. Remove the cheese sauce from the heat and carefully stir in the pasta. Pour into a 13 by 9 inch casserole dish. Mix the crumbled cooked bacon together with a half cup of Panko bread crumbs and two tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley. Sprinkle this mixture across the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake uncovered until lightly browned, about 20 to 25 minutes.