This macaroni and cheese recipe is quite simple to prepare, but full of wonderful complex flavor. This is a fun dish to prepare with children, especially cheese lovers, who can help out by mixing together the different cheeses. (Here is a great article and a video with tips for getting kids interested in the kitchen.) The spices are optional and are excellent candidates for replacement. Using basil, oregano and parsley instead of those listed below provides an Italian twist, while chili powder, oregano and cumin make a Mexican mac and cheese. Almost any short pasta will work, but tubes and options with ridges will ‘grab’ more of the cheesy goodness. Cavatappi, cavatelli, farfalle, fusilli, gemelli, orecchiette, penne, rotini and, of course, macaroni/maccheroni are all excellent choices.
1 lb dry Pasta (see the list above or just use your favorite)
4 TB Unsalted Butter
1/3 C all-purpose Flour
4 C Milk , heated
8 oz Extra-sharp Cheddar Cheese, grated large
4 oz American Cheese, grated large or chopped
4 oz Asiago cheese (fontina and gruyere work in a pinch)
Black Pepper, ground
1 tsp Mustard Powder (aka dry mustard and mustard flour – do not use ‘wet’ prepared mustard)
1 tsp Smoked Paprika (optional)
1 tsp Hot sauce (or more, optional)
1/4 C Parmesan cheese, grated fine
1/4 C Bread Crumbs, preferably homemade
Boil a large pot of well salted water. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain well.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°. Grease a deep casserole (3 or 4 quart) with olive oil (or butter).
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to make a roux. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Bring sauce to a simmer and continue to whisk until it thickens. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3 more minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup of the cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup of the American cheese and 1/2 cup of the Asiago (or Fontina). Add the paprika and hot sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Combine the remaining cheddar, American and Asiago cheeses. Spread one third of the pasta over the bottom of the casserole dish. Top with half of the shredded cheese and a third of the sauce. Repeat, using another third of the pasta with the remaining cheese and half of the sauce. Finish with the remaining pasta and sauce. Sprinkle parmesan and bread crumbs over the top.
Bake until bubbly and golden, about 30 minutes. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving for a consistent presentation.