Did you think only chefs could make great mac and cheese? It’s actually much easier to do at home than you might think. You don’t even need fancy Italian bronze-die pasta – supermarket elbow mac is just fine. Try it. It’s so good you may never order it in a restaurant again. This can be made ahead and baked just before eating.
CLASSIC MAC AND CHEESE
1 pound elbow macaroni
1/2 stick butter, plus another tablespoon or so for buttering the baking dish and dotting on top of the bread crumbs
2/3 cup finely chopped onion (about half a smallish onion)
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
9 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese (a tad less than 3 cups)
6 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan (divided)
Freshly ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon Tabasco or other pepper sauce
Salt to taste
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the macaroni and cook till al dente, about 4-5 minutes. Drain in a colander. While it’s cooking, butter a large baking dish.
In the same pot, melt the half-stick of butter over medium-low heat, add the chopped onion and saute until the it’s soft and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle on the flour, stir to combine and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the milk, bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, till it’s a smooth, velvety white sauce – about 6 minutes. Stir in the cheddar cheese, 4 tablespoons of the Parmesan, about 10 grindings of white pepper and the Tabasco and stir until the cheese is completely melted. Add the drained macaroni and stir it carefully and completely to coat all the pasta with the sauce. Taste, and add salt to taste if necessary (some cheese is saltier than others, so you may not need any).
Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining Parmesan. Turn the macaroni mixture into the baking dish, smooth it on top with the back of a spoon, and top with the bread crumb mixture. Dot here and there with butter (total of about half a tablespoon).
Bake about 20 minutes, till the top is golden brown. Let cool about 5 minutes before serving – or not, if you can’t wait!