I decided to make mac and cheese for dinner the other night and started with the recipe that I usually use: Martha Stewart's. I made a few modifications, some purposefully (added meat because this was to be the main course, wife requested multigrain pasta) and some out of necessity (I had less milk than I thought so I used other dairy products, also had only 1 stick of butter left so I had to use some olive oil in the breadcrumbs). The end result was fantastic: the best mac & cheese I have ever had.
I also tried another experiment when making this dish. Usually I put it all in one big casserole to bake, eat some right away, then eat the rest as leftovers. I've never much enjoyed the leftovers because the reheated m&c is always dry and sticky. So this time I portioned into individual servings (using 2-cup french onion soup bowls; I'm sure ramekins would have worked well too) and topped with breadcrumbs. But I only baked two bowls that night, and refrigerated the others to bake later. It was a great success. Not only did the m&c come out with the great texture and oozy cheesiness that I enjoy, but it actually tasted *better* the second and third nights. The flavors were more intense and integrated in the later bowls. Next time I make some, I'm going to go one step further and try freezing it.
So, here's the recipe as I made it. At bottom is a link to the original recipe.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided into 2 tbsp and 6 tbsp portions, plus more for coating dishes
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups coarse bread crumbs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 3/4 cups milk (effectively 1%, as I used up all we had of some 2% and nonfat milk)
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 strips thick-cut bacon, cooked and finely chopped.
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz gruyère cheese, grated
5 oz pecorino romano, grated
1 pound Barilla PLUS multigrain elbow macaroni
1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter six 2-cup french onion soup bowls (or any single or collection of oven-proof vessels with a total volume of 3 quarts or 12 cups). Melt 2 tbsp of the butter, add it, along with the olive oil, to the breadcrumbs and stir well.
2. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a large high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, quickly add flour. Whisk vigorously until all lumps are gone from the roux and then cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes.
3. Combine milk, half-and-half, and crème fraîche in a bowl. While whisking, slowly pour milk mixture into roux. Add bay leaves. Continue cooking, stiring and scraping the sides frequently, until thickened, about 15-20 minutes.
4. Remove pan from heat and remove bay leaves. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, paprika, bacon, and most (about 3/4 of the total volume) of the cheeses, setting a little cheese aside for later.
5. Cook macaroni in plenty of rapidly boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes *less* than manufacturer's directions (e.g., 7 minutes with the Barilla PLUS). Drain macaroni well in a colander. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce
6. Pour mixture into prepared dishes. Sprinkle remaining cheese, then bread crumbs over top. At this point, prepared mac and cheese can be covered and refrigerated to be baked later (up to 3 days as far as I know).
7. Bake at 375F until browned on top, about 30 minutes for freshly prepared dishes, about 40 if they have been refrigerated. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes, then serve immediately.