This is my adaptation of the mac 'n cheese recipe from a cheese maker located in Seattle's Pike Place Market. It has been routinely voted "Seattle's Best Mac" for several years running. If it's not the creamiest, cheesiest, most comforting mac you've ever tried, send me your recipe... I've never found a mac better than this. This is first class American comfort food that your family will surely love. It's a standby in our kitchen, and one of my favorite things to eat after a hard day.
There are three keys to perfect mac 'n cheese. First and foremost, do not use pre-shredded cheeses, which contain anti-caking agents that damage the melting properties. Second, cook the roux long enough to prevent a raw flour taste. Third, slightly undercook the pasta before it goes in the oven; this prevents it from turning to mush.
You can add a little bit of bacon, pancetta, prosciutto, or other flavorful bit of meat to create an additional savory dimension to your mac. For a vegetarian alternative, try chopping up some lightly steamed broccoli or cauliflower and stirring it into the cheese sauce, making sure to fully coat it so it doesn't scorch in the oven. Or, make it straight without anything added, and indulge your taste buds in pure cheesy creaminess.
12 oz pasta, such as penne, macaroni, radiatori, or fusilli
14 oz + 2 oz grated semi-hard cheese such as cheddar, gouda, gruyere, or emmentaler
2 oz grated semi-soft cheese such as monterrey jack, pepper jack, mozzarella, havarti, or colby
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
3 cups milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp garlic powder
crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
crumbled bacon, shredded prosciutto, pancetta, cooked sausage, cooked ground beef, or other meat (optional)
1. Grease a glass 9"x13" baking dish with butter. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta 2 minutes less than package directions, drain, pour cooked pasta into the glass baking dish, and add a little bit of butter to prevent the noodles from clumping.
3. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup butter, add 1/3 cup flour, and whisk together. Continue whisking constantly to avoid scorching. Cook for 2 minutes.
4. Slowly add the milk to the roux, whisking constantly. Cook for 10 minutes to thicken the sauce, stirring frequently. Stir in the salt and the garlic powder.
5. Turn the heat down to low. Gradually add 14 oz of semi-hard cheese and 2 oz of semi-soft cheese, stirring to incorporate the cheeses while they melt. (Note: different kinds of cheese produce unique flavors. Personally I love sharp white cheddar & pepper jack, or gouda with monterrey jack. The hard & soft combination is important for the consistency of the sauce.)
6. Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked noodles. Stir to thoroughly coat the noodles in the sauce. (Note: it will look like too much sauce for the amount of pasta, but the high sauce: noodles ratio is important for a creamy mac.)
7. Sprinkle the remaining 2 oz of semi-hard cheese on top.
8. Optional: sprinkle crushed red pepper flakes and bits of meat on top.
9. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Allow the mac to stand for 5 minutes prior to serving.
Enjoy this delicious comfort food!