At some point last year, the Contracts department started a tradition of a monthly pot luck “Brunch Bonanza.” Each month, we bring in a breakfast or lunch dish to share with the group. There’s fourteen of us, so we’ve always got plenty of new things to munch on. In the past, I’ve contributed things like coffee, quiche, lasagna, soup, taco dip and bagels. This month, I fed my co-workers this amazing macaroni and cheese. It’s not something I make very often (because it’s a pain in the ass), but it’s literally the best macaroni and cheese I’ve ever had.
This recipe below is based on this one from Martha Stewart, but I’ve cut it in half and altered it just a tad, so it’s meant to serve six portions. It is very rich, so I normally serve it as a side dish. In this case, I was feeding a big group, so I doubled it back up to the original measurements in Martha’s recipe. =)
The Perfect Macaroni & Cheese
With Extra Sharp White Cheddar & Gruyere Cheese
3 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups (about 9 ounces) grated extra sharp white cheddar
1 cup (about 4 ounces) grated Gruyere
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish; set aside.
2. Shred the cheese. (Keep the cheddar and the Gruyere separate — some will go into the cheese sauce, and some will get sprinkled on top).
2. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. Melt 1 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
3. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
4. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
5. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 3/4 cups cheddar, and 3/4 cup Gruyere. Set cheese sauce aside.
6. Fill a medium saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer’s directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. (Make sure to rinse thoroughly with cold water – this removes excess starch from the pasta to keep your macaroni and cheese from being grainy.) Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheddar and 1/4 cup Gruyere over the top; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes; serve.
A few things to keep in mind:
1. Cheese is expensive, but I promise you — the higher quality cheese you use in this dish, the better it will taste. If you’re going to go through all the effort to make this, use some decent cheese.
2. No need to waste any food. It is perfectly acceptable to dip the cast-aside bread crusts in any cheese remaining in the pot while you’re waiting for the macaroni and cheese to bake.
3. It is also perfectly acceptable to fantasize about using said cheese as a hot dog topping in the future.
4. The only way I can think of to possibly make this any better is to add lobster. If you try that, please let me know how it turns out. =)