I find it funny that Ina Garten's recipe for macaroni and cheese in her Barefoot Contessa Family Style cookbook is in the back with the kids stuff. I know, I know - it's kids food, or maybe it WAS kids food when the cookbook was published back in 2002, but mac and cheese has been promoted to the grown up table as of late. In my house it's always been grown up food...or maybe it's that we've always just been big kids.
This recipe for macaroni and cheese is my all-time favorite, hands down. I use whatever kind of pasta I feel like using and I don't remove the crusts from the bread before I make the breadcrumbs. And most times I swap the proportions for the gruyere and the sharp cheddar, because buying 12 ounces of really good gruyere can get a little spendy. The tomatoes are absolutely essential and the whole thing is so delicious reheated (or not) for leftovers the next day and the day after that. This year we made it for Valentine's Day because nothing says "I love you" like a big hot gooey mess of cheese and pasta topped with tomatoes and crispy buttery breadcrumbs.
Macaroni & Cheese
kosher salt, to taste
vegetable oil, if desired
1 lb elbow macaroni or cavatappi pasta
1 quart milk
8 T unsalted butter (divided)
1/2 c all-purpose flour
12 oz gruyere cheese, grated (4 c)
8 oz extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 lb fresh tomatoes (4 sm)
1 1/2 c fresh white breadcrumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package. Drain well.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4 qt.) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minutes or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoons salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3 qt baking dish.
Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine butter with fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on top. Bake 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and macaroni is browned on the top.