Autumn is here and the weather has finally changed – cooler evenings – and it is time for comfort food. And great comfort food; Homemade Macaroni and Cheese.
This is my version of Macaroni and Cheese. I have used my family’s favorite cheeses in making this recipe. This is a great casserole for dinner, family reunions and holiday potlucks.
Changes Through the Years
Growing up, macaroni and cheese consisted of elbow macaroni cooked, mixed in a can of cream of mushroom soup, a touch of milk, and a drained can of light tuna in oil with sliced American cheese on top. The cheese was thick because my mom bought the big blocks of cheese that you had to use a cheese cutter to get slices. You baked in the oven to get everything warm and a golden layer of cheese on top of the casserole. You will find no mushroom soup or tuna in this casserole. Just creamy, cheesy macaroni with a delicious panko bread topping. My mouth is watering and I can’t wait to make a batch of this Macaroni and Cheese this weekend. Enjoy!
Getting the Homemade Macaroni and Cheese Started
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put a pot of water on the stovetop to simmer for later use.
Gather all your ingredients from the refrigerator and measure them into measuring cups and bowls. Let them set out of the refrigerator so the ingredients will come to room temperature while you are preparing the cheese and pasta for the recipe.
Grate all the cheeses and set cheeses aside for later use.
Bring the water to a boil. To the water and your salt, pepper, and dried pasta. Cook the pasta al dente, according to your package directions.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain it in the sink. Run cool water in the sink while dumping out the hot water being careful to not burn or steam yourself. Let pasta sit in the strainer to completely drain.
Rinse out the pan you cooked the pasta in and place it back on the burner on medium heat. To make the Roux start by melting the 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Watch carefully so the butter does not burn. Once the butter is melted, add half of a cup of all-purpose flour to the butter, stirring to make sure all is incorporated. Cook for approximately 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. If needed, thin the flour mixture by adding another tablespoon of unsalted butter and stirring to make sure all is incorporated.
Making Bechamel Sauce
Using a heat-resistant whisk slowly whisk the milk into the flour mixture. Do not bring milk to a boil. Whisk until the flour mixture and milk are fully incorporated. Slowly add the half and half into the mixture and whisk. If you let the items warm up the sauce will thicken faster. This is why I leave the ingredients out of the refrigerator when I start prepping. Now add the smoked paprika to the sauce along with pepper to taste. Keep whisking until the mixture becomes thick, approximately four to five minutes depending on your stove. What you are looking for is thick and creamy. Imagine making instant pudding. When you are mixing it and it starts to thicken up a little, it is ready to pour into the serving bowls. This beginning sauce is called a Bechamel sauce.
Making the Cheese Sauce
Once the sauce is smooth and the right thickness, it is time to add all the cheeses. Slowly add approximately a third of the cheese, incorporate and add the next third, incorporate and the last third. Stir until all is incorporated and the cheese sauce looks the same color throughout. If the sauce becomes too thick then you can whisk a little milk into the mixture to thin it down. Taste test and see if more salt or pepper needs to be added at this time. Set it aside off the fire.
Shake your pasta to make sure it is fully drained. If the pasta is in any way clumped together use your hands or spoon to break apart the pasta. Carefully pour the pasta easily into the cheese mixture and mix thoroughly. You will stir it until all the cheese is nicely incorporated into your macaroni.
Preparing Dish for Baking
Prepare your casserole baking dish with Pam for Baking by spraying the sides and bottom of the casserole dish. The Pam for Baking is the Pam that has a little bit of flour in the mixture, and I find this product works best to keep the macaroni and cheese from sticking to the dish. Pour the macaroni mixture into the 13in. x 9in. glass pan or your casserole dish and proceed to smooth and level out the mixture.
Add the melted butter to your panko bread crumbs and mix until all the breadcrumbs are moist. Evenly distribute panko breadcrumbs over the top of your macaroni and cheese. With your hand, just lightly pat down the bread crumbs to set them. Place your baking dish on a cookie sheet in case of spillovers.
Ready for the Oven
Place on the middle rack into a preheated oven at 350 Degrees. Cook for approximately 25 to 35 minutes. The amount of time depends on your oven and the type of dish that you’re using. You what to have a beautifully browned breadcrumb crust. If your macaroni and cheese is thoroughly warm and the breadcrumbs aren’t as brown as you like, you can turn the broiler on and broil for about 1 to 2 minutes at the end of baking. You must keep an eye on the dish so that the breadcrumbs do not burn if you decided to broil the top.
Optional, some people do not want the breadcrumb topping. Instead of using breadcrumbs on top, you can use cheese on top. Grate an extra cup of cheese and put the grated cheese on top of the macaroni and cheese. Smooth it out so it’s nice and even. Bake and it will make a nice crusty cheesy topping instead of a bread topping on your mac and cheese.
Directions to Use if Finishing Macaroni and Cheese the Next Day
You can make the macaroni and cheese up to the point of putting on the topping**. Let the food cool off and pop it into the refrigerator in the dish you plan to bake in. The next day you will remove the baking dish from the fridge and let set out on the counter to warm up for approximately 30 to 45 minutes.
The cold refrigerator makes the cheese seize up and it needs to warm up a little before trying to cook the dish. The colder the macaroni and cheese dish is when you are ready to cook will mean you will have to add extra cooking time. You will need to watch the macaroni and cheese carefully towards the end to make sure you do not overbake it. Overbaking will dry out the macaroni and cheese.
When ready, add the bread crumbs to the melted butter and stir all together. Spread the mixture on top of the macaroni and cheese, pat down the bread crumbs and place in the oven to bake following the above instructions. I have added extra milk to the recipe because I take this recipe for potluck so often that I do not want to worry about drying out the macaroni and cheese.
Give this recipe a try because it’s a winner. For a fabulous meal serve this Homemade Macaroni and Cheese with a green salad, french bread and for dessert try my Apple Cider Doughnut Cake.
Until we see each other again, take care, be safe and God Bless you all, Bye.