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CLASSIC MACARONI AND CHEESE

America's Test Kitchen Live!, Cook’s Illustrated magazine

Serves 6 to 8 as a main course or 10 to 12 as a side dish

It's crucial to cook the pasta until tender—that is, just past the al dente stage. Whole, low-fat, and skim milk all work well in this recipe. The recipe may be halved and baked in an 8-inch square, broiler-safe baking dish. If desired, offer celery salt or hot sauce (such as Tabasco) for sprinkling at the table.


Bread Crumb Topping
6 slices (about 6 ounces) good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Pasta And Cheese
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
5 cups milk (see note)
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)

1. FOR THE BREAD CRUMBS:
Pulse the bread and butter in a food processor until the crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside.

2. FOR THE PASTA AND CHEESE:
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and the macaroni and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until tender, drain, and set aside.

3. In the now-empty stockpot, heat the butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the flour, mustard, cayenne (if using), and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute.

Whisking constantly, gradually add the milk; bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly (the mixture must reach a full boil to fully thicken), then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the cheeses until fully melted. Add the pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.

4. Transfer the mixture to a broiler-safe 13 by 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Broil until deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, then serve.

VARIATION
MACARONI AND CHEESE WITH PEAS AND HAM
Cut 8 ounces baked deli ham, sliced 1/4 inch thick, into 1-inch squares. Follow the recipe for Classic Macaroni and Cheese, adding the chopped ham and 1 cup frozen peas to the cheese sauce along with the pasta. Proceed as directed.
 

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