Difficulty: Easy - for beginners
Serves: 6 to 8
Although the classic pasta shape for this dish is elbow macaroni, any small, curvaceous pasta will work. Do not use lowfat or skim milk, as neither is rich enough to make a creamy sauce. Low-sodium vegetable broth can be substituted for the chicken broth to make this dish vegetarian.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 clove garlic , minced
1 teaspoon dry mustard , dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk (see note above)
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound Colby cheese , shredded (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (2 cups)
Ground black pepper
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and toss with the breadcrumbs.
2. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for the macaroni. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the macaroni and cook until almost tender but still firm to the bite. Drain the macaroni and leave it in the colander.
3. Wipe the pot dry, add the remaining 6 tablespoons butter, and melt over medium heat. Stir in the garlic, mustard mixture, and cayenne. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
4. Stir in the flour and cook until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and broth. Bring to a simmer. Cook, whisking often, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 6 minutes.
5. Off the heat, whisk in the Colby and cheddar until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the drained macaroni, breaking up any clumps, until well combined.
6. Pour into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with the breadcrumbs. Bake until golden brown and bubbling around the edges, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
To Make Ahead
Assemble the casserole as directed through step 6, but do not sprinkle with the buttered breadcrumbs or bake. Store in the refrigerator, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days before serving. The casserole can also be frozen, wrapped in an additional layer of foil, for up to 2 months. Allow the macaroni and cheese to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before baking. (If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours before letting it sit at room temperature.)