While most people are content to get their mac 'n cheese fix from a box (I admit, there are times when it's easier) there's really no comparison to homemade macaroni and cheese. It's easy, delicious, and completely open to creativity. There are a plethora of cheeses and flavors you can incorporate into this classic, and once you understand the basic technique, the possibilities are limitless.
The basis for good macaroni and cheese is a good cheese sauce (or Sauce Mornay). Constructing the Mornay requires first making a Bechamel (a white sauce made by thickening milk or cream with a Roux,) one of the French 'Mother Sauces' that's a very handy and quite useful technique to have in your repertoire.
Three Cheese Macaroni
(Recipe serves 3-4)
2 T. Butter
2 T. Flour
1 1/2 cups milk (skim, whole, 2%, whatever you'd like)
1 Bay leaf
1 clove Garlic, smashed
2 sprigs Thyme
2 cups Cheese, shredded (I used a combination of Fontina, Sharp Cheddar and Parmigiano)
1 tsp. Dried Mustard
1/4 tsp. grated Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper as needed
1 cup dried Macaroni
Melt butter in a pan.
Add flour, and stir until incorporated. This should result in an off-white paste.
This is your Roux.
Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
Add bay leaf, thyme, cloves, peppercorns, garlic and milk to a saucepan.
Bring just to a boil and remove from heat.
Let steep for about 15 minutes.
Remove spices/herbs and bring milk back to a simmer.
Whisk in the Roux, adding a teaspoon at a time until sauce is thickened (should just coat the back of a spoon.)
Simmer, stirring, until flour taste is gone.
This is your Bechamel.
Strain the sauce (to remove any lumps).
Add dried mustard and nutmeg.
Off of the heat (very important to prevent cheese from getting stringy) gradually add the cheese, stirring until incorporated. Take the pan off and on the heat until the cheese is melted.
This is your Mornay.
Adjust seasoning as needed.
In a pot of salted (like the sea!), boiling water, cook the macaroni until al dente.
Strain and add Mornay to coat.
For the topping:
2 strips Bacon, cooked, chopped roughly
2 sprigs Thyme, picked
1/4 cup bread crumbs (make your own!)
Combine all in a food processor and pulse until mixed.
Add macaroni and cheese to bowls, ramekins, casserole, etc. (as long as they are oven safe) and top with the breadcrumb mixture.
Pop under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the topping.
Serve and enjoy!