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Perfect Macaroni and Cheese
It is important to use pungent cheeses, such as sharp cheddar, mixed with a little Gruyere or pecorino Romano for extra bite, since the white sauce and pasta will absorb a lot of flavor. The type of cheese used will also affect the sauce's texture: Sharp white cheddar produces the smoothest result; yellow and extra sharp cheddars can become grainy. You can easily divide this recipe in half; use a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish if you do.
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
- 6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4 to 1/2-inch pieces
- 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 375 degrees F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the bread pieces aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat the milk. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Slowly pour the hot milk into the flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup pecorino Romano. Set the cheese sauce aside.
Fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add the macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than the manufacturer's directions, until the outside of pasta is cooked and the 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 the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter the bread pieces over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer the dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.
Recipe reprinted by permission of Martha Stewart Living. All rights reserved.
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