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Mac & Cheese

Yield: 8 generous servings

Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle

For topping
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 2 cups panko (coarse Japanese bread crumbs) or 3 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from 6 slices firm white sandwich bread)
  • 1/4 pound coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
For macaroni and sauce
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups whole milk
  • 1 pound coarsely grated extra-sharp Cheddar (6 cups)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
Make topping 
Melt butter, then stir together with panko and topping cheeses in a bowl until combined well.
Make sauce 
Melt butter over medium low heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook over low heat for about 3 minutes, being careful not to brown at all. Slowly add milk, whisking to keep any lumps from forming, until sauce is creamy. Continue to cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, until sauce is thickened to the consistency of very heavy cream. Stir in cheeses, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until smooth. Remove from heat and cover pot.
Cook pasta in boiling salted water until almost al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain pasta. Stir together pasta, reserved cooking water, and sauce in a large bowl. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole. Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni and bake until golden and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.