This is it, people. The most requested recipe in my arsenal, the number one go-to dish for parties, holidays, you name it: it's my perfect mac and cheese. Starring three cheeses to create a creamy, flavorful sauce, this mac and cheese is everything you could hope for in a pasta dish. The crispy crunchy panko bread topping is the perfect compliment to the richness that lays underneath. And get this: on top of all that, is it also one of the easiest things ever to make!
The cheese sauce starts off as a simple béchamel, and making béchamel for the first time can be intimidating to some. But with a few simple tricks, I can guarantee that your sauce will come out creamy and rich every time. Béchamel starts with a roux, a combination of melted butter and flour that will make the sauce nice and thick. Adding milk to the roux turns it into béchamel, and it is during this step that I have a few tricks to ensuring a perfect sauce.
The first is to warm the milk up before adding it to the roux- this helps everything to come together smoothly. The second is to add the milk in very small amounts at a time, whisking after each addition. This ensures that there will be no lumps. Because nobody wants a lumpy béchamel, am I right? All that's left is to stir in the grated cheese and voila! You have a delicious cheese sauce that will be the star of your mac and cheese.
Maddie's Mac and Cheese
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 pound elbow pasta
- 2 3/4 cups whole milk (2% will work as well)
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar, divided
- 1 cup shredded fontina, divided
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan, divided
- Freshly cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a 1 1/2 quart baking dish with cooking spray. Melt one tablespoon of the butter. Stir together melted butter and the panko bread crumbs until well combined. Set aside.
Cook the pasta is a large saucepan according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, begin to warm up the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Drain cooked pasta and set aside.
Using the now empty large saucepan, melt the remaining three tablespoons butter over medium heat. Once the butter is bubbling, add the flour and stir, cooking for one minute. Add warmed milk, about a half a cup at a time, whisking well after each addition. Once all milk is added, allow the sauce to come to a simmer. Cook, stirring continuously, for about two minutes. Turn off the heat. Stir in salt, black pepper, 3/4 cup of cheddar, 3/4 cup of fontina, and 1/2 cup of Parmesan, until all the cheese has melted.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, and stir to combine. Pour pasta and sauce mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup cheddar, 1/4 cup fontina, and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan on top. Top with the Panko bread crumb mixture. Bake until golden brown, 30-40 minutes.