Mac and cheese...mmm. What speaks pure comfort more than that? I gave up on the boxed version a long time ago after tasting real mac and cheese at Whole Foods. I still can't believe I ate the boxed stuff for so many years! Ever since then, I have always meant to try my hand at homemade mac and cheese, but I just have not got around to it until recently. On my first attempt, the result was certainly good, although it needed more flavor. It also came out rather grainy. After doing some research, I modified my method slightly and added some extra flavoring to it by seasoning the bechamel sauce. The result was fabulous! The contrast of the crunchy breadcrumb topping with the cheesy and creamy pasta underneath was out of this world. The flavoring from the herbs and the tang from the dijon mustard make all the difference. Of course, you can play around with different herbs and flavorings to suit your taste. A. even said that my mac and cheese was better than the mac and cheese at Whole Foods! What a compliment! :) I'll certainly be making this again. Next time you find yourself reaching for boxed mac and cheese, try this out instead-you won't be disappointed!
Mac and Cheese:
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. flour
2 cups cold whole milk mixed with 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. dry thyme
1 dried bay leaf
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
2 tsp. dijon mustard(or less if you don't want too much tanginess)
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1.5 cups dry pasta, cooked according to package directions
1/4 cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
1 tbsp. butter
Preheat your oven to 350F. Melt 1 tbsp. butter over medium-low heat in a non-stick pot. Add the flour, and whisk it completely into the melted butter. Keep whisking over medium-low until it achieves a light brown color, about 4-5 minutes.
Gradually whisk in the milk-cream mixture, thouroughly incorporating each batch before adding the next. Once the mixture is completely added, add the bay leaf and thyme.
Keep whisking until the mixture starts to simmer. When it begins to simmer, add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Do not let it boil. Let it simmer for about five minutes, or until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove from the heat, and let it sit for a minute off the heat. Discard the bay leaf. Then, add the dijon mustard and gradually whisk in the shredded cheese, a little at a time, until it is completely melted in.
The sauce, which becomes a sauce Mornay with the addition of the cheese, will be very thick.
Mix the sauce with the dry pasta and transfer to a baking dish.
Melt the other tbsp. butter and mix with the bread crumbs. Spread the bread crumb mixture evenly over the pasta. Bake the mixture in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the bread crumbs are golden brown.