This cheesy pasta lived up to its title as “classic.” The combination of cheeses gave it the perfect velvety texture. We ate it as part of my husband’s birthday feast this year. Everyone loved it!
The recipe was adapted from The New Best Recipe All-New Edition from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe also notes that the recipe can be halved and baked in an 8-inch square baking dish. Great.
Yield: one 9×13-inch casserole: Serves 6 to 8 as a main course or 10 to 12 as a side dish
For the Bread Crumb Topping:
- 6 slices (about 6 ounces) good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces (I used Trader Joe’s Sourdough sandwich bread)
- 3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
For the Casserole:
- 1 pound elbow macaroni (I used Trader Joe’s)
- 5 T unsalted butter
- 6 T all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 5 cups milk (whole, low-fat, or skim okay)(I used 3 cups whole and 2 cups low-fat)
- 8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
- 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
To Prepare the Bread Crumbs:
- In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the bread and butter until the crumbs are no larger than 1/8-inch, about 10 to 15 pulses. Set aside.
To Prepare the Pasta & Cheese:
- Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the broiler.
- Place a 9×13-inch broiler safe baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. (I also covered the enameled handles of my baking dish with foil to protect them from the heat of the broiler.)
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until the pasta is tender (NOT al dente).
- Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water (for reheating leftovers). Drain in a colander and set aside.
- In the now-empty Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium-high heat until foaming.
- Add the flour, mustard, and cayenne; whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. (I used a flat whisk.)
- Whisking constantly, gradually add the the milk; bring the mixture to a boil. The mixture must reach a full boil to fully thicken.
- After the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the grated cheeses and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. Whisk until the cheeses are completely melted.
- Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming and heated through, about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with the bread crumbs.
- Broil until the crumbs are deep golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary for even browning. (I set my oven to Broil+Max @500 degrees.) Cool for about 5 minutes before serving.