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Baked macaroni and cheese with penne pasta

SOURCE: FINE COOKING #91 (ALSO AT FINECOOKING.COM)

I’m sure most of us are craving comfort food as we continue to navigate this COVID-19 craziness. Macaroni and cheese definitely ranks among my favourite comfort foods. And I’m talking about from-scratch mac and cheese with proper pasta and some sharp cheeses.

Homemade macaroni and cheese can really use any tube or twisted pasta shape. I’d probably avoid long noodles like spaghetti or linguine (if you’re craving spaghetti, try pasta carbonara instead). Be sure to cook is to a proper al dente (still toothy) so it doesn’t become mushy.

It’s not hard to prepare, nor is it particularly time consuming. You can multitask some steps, or spread them out over a day.

The base of any proper macaroni and cheese is a béchamel sauce—milk thickened with flour—and melting cheese into it. In this case, the main cheese is a sharp cheddar (the sharpest you can find). But because cheddar isn’t a great melting cheese, we combine it with a melting cheese. The recipe calls for Monterey Jack (and I’ve used that before with this recipe), but this time I used gouda, which also melts nicely and has a bit more flavour.

You could simplify this recipe by serving the pasta right after mixing with the cheese sauce. But this recipe takes it up a notch by covering it with a crunchy topping of fresh breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. If you don’t have bread on-hand to make fresh breadcrumbs, panko would be an acceptable substitute, but don’t bother using regular breadcrumbs which are too fine.

One batch easily serves 8 with decent portions. Makes great leftovers, either re-heated or at room temperature!

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