Bear’s Favorite Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Let me start off by saying this: I AM NOT A CHEESE PERSON. There, I said it. I am, however, a baked macaroni and cheese person. I just think that lately we have gone too far, adding things like bacon, truffles, lobster (!!!!???!!!), and vegetables ruins the experience for me. As you well know, I LOVE all of these ingredients, but with baked macaroni and cheese I am, and will forever be, a PURIST, I believe that baked macaroni and cheese should be made with macaroni (not cooked to mush), sauce (must be thick, creamy, and sharp-ish), and breadcrumb topping (buttery panko crumbs mixed with Italian Parsley…I mean, one needs a vegetable somewhere here, right?)

I have been having an issue with the pasta/sauce ratio. I find that most recipes lack the proper amount of cheese sauce, and end up going dry, especially with leftovers. I think leftovers are the most important thing to consider.  If you have the luxury of leftovers, baked macaroni and cheese is great cut into squares, breaded with more panko, and fried. If you have never done this, try it, and ahead of time, You’re welcome.

Pasta is important too.  I do NOT use the traditional elbow macaroni that we all know.  It just never does what I want it to do. Getting mushy and kinda melding into the sauce.  So, I prefer using larger macaroni like CAVATAPPI, a large corkscrew shaped pasta that holds sauce better, and stands up to my really heavy cheese sauce.  Cook the pasta a few minutes less than the box suggests.

I have heard all kinds of mixes when it comes to cheese, but I prefer to go with 100% sharp cheddar.  Buy as good a quality as you can afford. Grate it fine so it melts easily in your sauce.  I also don’t believe in putting cheese on top of the baked macaroni and cheese. You have the buttery topping for that.  Put all the cheese in your sauce. Believe me…you won’t be dissappointed.

****OH, and a word to all of you out there who believe that need to use that vile block of fluorescent processed garbage to make a good macaroni and cheese, NO…I have heard all kinds of ridiculous claims, like you can’t get a creamy sauce without the processed stuff…that is just not true. Oh, yeah, and it’s gross.

I like to bake my macaroni and cheese in a cast iron skillet.  It is super dramatic when brought to table, all super bubbly, and the pan will hold the heat well during service.

Bear’s Favorite Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb cavatappi pasta

8 Tbs Butter (1 stick)

8 Tbs flour

2 Cups WHOLE milk

2 Cups Heavy Cream (We aren’t eating this every day…or…???)

1 tsp sea salt (We NEVER use iodized, or TABLE salt)

1/2 tsp freshly grated black pepper

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

4 Cups of shedded Sharp cheddar cheese

Buttery topping:

1/2 C PLAIN Panko breadcrumbs

1/4 C (1/2 stick) melted butter

2 Tbs finely chopped fresh parsley

1/2 tsp sea salt

2 Tbs grated Pecorino cheese (optional)

Let’s go!!!

Preheat your oven to 400 Degrees.

1. Cook your macaroni for about two minutes less than the package suggests in lots of very salty water.  Water should be as salty as ocean water. Drain and hold aside.

2. Melt your butter in a heavy bottom saucepan. Add flour.  Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat for about five minutes, to cook the raw flavor out of the flour.

3. Add the milk and cream, whisking as you add.  Once all the milk and cream is added. Stir constantly until the sauce comes to a boil, and is very thick. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper.

4. Stir in the cheese with a wooden spoon OFF the heat until combined.  Place saucepan over LOW heat, and stir constantly until all cheese is melted, and sauce is smooth and VERY thick.

5. Combine macaroni and cheese, and place in a well buttered 13 inch cast iron skilet.

6. Make the Breadcrumb topping: Combine Breadcrumbs and butter, add in parsley, salt and pepper.  Add optional cheese.

7. Top the macaroni and cheese with the breadcrumb mixture, and bake for 30 minutes until the cheese sauce bubbles all around the edges, and the topping is all brown and crunchy.

8. AVOID TEMPTATION, and allow this to cool for about 15 minutes before you eat it.