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Creamy Mac and Cheese

This mac and cheese is miles away from its neon-boxed cousin that you may have had as a kid. Once you have enjoyed a plate of this from-scratch version, bubbling hot from the oven, with its flavorful cheeses and buttery crown of crisp bread crumbs, you will be hard-pressed to return to its store-bought kin.

Ingredients:

  • 7 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lb. elbow macaroni
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk, warmed
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups shredded fontina cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard

Directions:

In a large frying pan, melt 3 Tbs. of the butter over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until tender but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the bread crumbs and stir until coated with butter. Set aside.

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Butter a shallow 3-quart baking dish.

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the macaroni and stir occasionally until the water returns to a boil. Cook according to the package directions until not quite al dente. (The macaroni will cook again in the oven, so do not overcook it now.) Drain well and set aside.

Add the remaining 4 Tbs. butter to the pot used for the pasta and melt over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let bubble for 1 minute without browning. Gradually whisk in the milk, raise the heat to medium and bring to a boil, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheeses along with the mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the pasta. Spread in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle evenly with the buttered crumbs.

Bake until the crumbs are browned and the sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then serve hot. Serves 6.

Variation: Any tubular pasta will do: try penne, ziti, or mostaccioli. To give your mac and cheese a little personality, add chopped crisp bacon, cubes of smoked ham or cooked chicken, cooked peas, chopped blanched broccoli, sautéed wild mushrooms or crumbled blue cheese.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food, by Rick Rodgers (Oxmoor House, 2009).