Once upon a time, there was a girl who just wanted creamy, cheesy mac and cheese. Not full of spices or fancy things, just plain ol’ gooey mac and cheese that she could make herself. So I developed this recipe and now I share it with you, friends. Because you all deserve this bit of comforting yum in your life. You are so welcome.
This one is the one I make to go along with Buttermilk Fried Chicken Tenders or Hammy Sammies or Beef Roast Sandwiches. How about Loaded Roast Beef and Bleu Sliders? You should probably check them out! Heck, this would make a PBJ look great. You could also easily add chunks of ham and make it a full meal. Add some bacon or crab if it floats your boat! Pulled pork? Oh good heavens! The possibilities are endless.
Our favorite combinations are a Havarti (2 cups) Cheddar (4 cups) blend with bacon, or smoked Gouda/Cheddar with ham. Also, we’ve grown quite fond of next-day-leftovers* pressed flat and fried in refined (no coconut flavor) coconut oil. Crispy on the outside and hot and gooey on the inside. How can you resist?
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This one has become my frenemy. It is why I exercise. I both love and despise it.
And it’s EASY. The only bummer is the tired hand you’ll have from grating all of that cheese. You can, however, use your food processor to grate partially frozen cheese!
Boil your choice of pasta (I love cavatappi ’cause it’s just so fun) in water salted with a teaspoon or so of salt until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, melt 1/2 c. (1 stick) of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in 1/2 c. flour, and whisk together for 2-3 minutes to let it cook.
Add in up to 1 T. salt and up to 1 T. pepper. Yes, that’s Tablespoon, and yes, it’s a lot of spice, but that’s how we like it around here! As always, adjust seasonings to your taste. I use Kosher or my new favorite Real Salt. Slowly pour in 4 cups of whole milk (don’t skimp here–in fact you can even use some cream) whisking as you go until smooth. Keep whisking until the sauce comes just to a very low boil. This is where it will thicken considerably. If you stop heating it too soon, it will not thicken correctly so whisk and heat until thickened just like in the picture below. Remove from heat.
Grease a 9×13″ dish with butter and add the cooked pasta to the dish.
Over the top of the pasta sprinkle 6 cups freshly shredded Cheddar (I use white or sharp), or any mix of cheese you prefer. Some favorites with Cheddar are Havarti and Gouda.
Pour the beautiful cream sauce over the top of the cheese and pasta and let it sit a couple minutes to begin to melt the cheese.
Then, stir the whole beautiful cheesy goodness together and make the topping.
In a small skillet, melt 2 T. butter over medium heat. Add in 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs. Stir constantly until golden brown. Sprinkle over the pasta and cheese.
Bake in a 325 degree preheated oven for 12-15 minutes.
Hot, cheesy perfection.
Serves approx. 6-8 as a main dish or 10-12 as a side.
*I have received many questions regarding preparing THE Mac ahead of time. It is my recommendation to make this fresh before serving. Many people LOVE this cheesy goodness reheated, and love the leftovers as much as fresh out of the oven, But because it is a cheese sauce, it can tend to separate and does not lead to optimal results if you are making it for a get together. Of course, it is possible to make this ahead, put it in the fridge and then just add some time to your bake time, and it does taste AMAZING, but for optimal results, make it, bake it, and eat it. :o)
If you would like some tips on how other amazing readers have overcome this issue including crock pot ideas, read through the comments. There are some great tips in there!
- 1 lb. cavatappi pasta (or pasta of your choice)
- ½ c. butter
- ½ c. flour
- 4 c. milk
- 6 c. freshly shredded sharp or white Cheddar
- 1 T. salt
- up to 1 T. pepper
- 2 T. butter
- ½ c. panko bread crumbs
- Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions. Melt butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk and cook 2-3 minutes. Add in salt and pepper. Slowly pour in 4 c. milk whisking until smooth and heating to a low boil until thickened. Do not stop until thick. Remove from heat.
- Grease a 9x13" baking dish and add the hot pasta to the dish. Over the top sprinkle 6 c. of freshly shredded cheese. Pour the thickened cream sauce over the hot pasta and cheese and let it sit until the cheese melts. Stir everything together.
- Melt 2 T. butter over medium heat. Add in panko bread crumbs, stirring constantly 3-5 minutes or until golden brown. Pour over the mac and cheese.
- Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven 12-15 minutes.