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baked macaroni + cheese

when i think comfort food, mac + cheese is one of the first things that comes to mind. while i love interesting versions of it, featuring jalapenos, bacon or mushrooms (to name a few), sometimes i just want a slightly dressed-up take on the childhood classic. after trying endless recipes, i stumbled across this one, which has become my go-to mac + cheese (+ a huge crowd favorite!)

a few notes – first, make sure you use great, high-quality cheeses for this recipe. the cheese is what makes the dish so wonderful, so you’ll want to use types that lend rich flavor + texture to the sauce. i opt for extra-sharp cheddar + a delicious aged parmigiano-reggiano when i make this, + the flavor combination is sinfully good. if you prefer a milder cheddar or even a white cheddar, you can certainly use those instead.

how good is this mac + cheese? so good that as soon as it came out of the oven, i dug a fork right into the baking dish + started nomming. so good that i barely stopped eating long enough to snap a picture of it, hence the picture above, which does not do this mac + cheese justice! it is the creamiest, richest, most flavorful mac + cheese that i have ever made. it is a wonderful accompaniment for pulled pork barbeque, burgers, or steak, or it stands alone beautifully as a decadent, comforting main course. enjoy!

baked macaroni + cheese with panko topping

makes 8-10 servings, adapted from gourmet magazine

ingredients

for panko topping

1/4 stick unsalted butter
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 pound coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

for mac + cheese

1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ½ cups whole milk
1/2 pound coarsely-grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 pound elbow macaroni

directions

to make breadcrumb topping

preheat oven to 400°
melt the butter, then toss with panko + topping cheeses in a bowl until combined well.

make sauce

melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat, then add in the diced onions. cook until onions are translucent + starting to caramelize, about 10-15 minutes. stir in the flour.

cook the roux, stirring for 3 minutes, then whisk in milk. bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer, whisking occasionally, for 3 minutes.

stir in cheese, 1 teaspoon salt + 1/2 teaspoon pepper, until smooth. remove from heat + cover surface with wax paper.

make macaroni

cook macaroni in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente. reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water + drain macaroni

in a large bowl, stir together macaroni, reserved cooking liquid, + the cheese sauce. transfer to a buttered 9 x 9 baking dish.

sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni + add fresh cracked pepper. bake until golden + bubbling, about 20 – 25 minutes.