There is nothing more satisfying than homemade macaroni and cheese. The boxed stuff has nothing on this treasured family classic – gooey Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses are combined with noodles and an assortment of different herbs and spices. A toasted bread crumb and Parmigiano-Reggiano topping adds a nice and crispy crunch to the dish. This mac & cheese is delicious on its own or served as a side dish.
Serves 6 to 8
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 quart whole milk, heated
1 large sprig fresh thyme, plus 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
8 ounces (2 packed cups) grated extra-sharp white Cheddar
4 ounces (1 packed cup) grated Monterey Jack
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. elbow macaroni or other small pasta, such as small shells
2 tablespoons olive oil; more for the baking dish
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1-1/2 ounces (1/2 lightly packed cup) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Heat the oven to 400°F and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
While the water is coming to a boil, in a 5- to 6-quart heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the flour and continue stirring, until slightly darker, 1 to 2 minutes. Add in the mustard.
Now whisk in the milk, a little at a time, while whisking constantly. Once about half the milk is in, you can add the rest more quickly.
When all the milk is in, stir in the thyme sprig, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let come to a gentle simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes to let the flavor come together.
Take out the thyme sprig and bay leaf. Add the Cheddar and Jack cheeses, stirring well until melted, and then add the Worcestershire and Tabasco. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper, if necessary. Keep warm, stirring occasionally.
Cook the pasta in the boiling water according to the package directions until al dente. Pour into a colander and drain really well. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Lightly oil a 9×13-inch baking dish (or similar volume) and add the pasta evenly to the dish.
To bake individual servings, choose small baking dishes that hold 1-1/2 to 2 cups each. You can fill them to within about ½-inch of the rim.
In a medium bowl, toss the breadcrumbs, Parmigiano, olive oil, chopped thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Spread the crumbs evenly over the pasta.
Bake in the center of the oven until the top is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.