There are so many ways to make and indulge in the luxury that is homemade macaroni and cheese. This is my favorite recipe and I think it’s a crowd-pleaser. It straddles the line of simple without taking shortcuts and presents a classic, unfussy taste. How many times have I made this, carried it to parks and parties, made it stretch to feed the indeterminate crowd that showed up? Many. Serve it with a large green salad and — done.
Mac and cheese for a crowd
Makes two 9-inch-by-13-inch pans but can easily be halved for fewer eaters and a 9-inch-by-9-inch pan.
- 3 pounds dried pasta, elbows, shells, penne, or any fun shape
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup flour
- 3 teaspoons dry yellow mustard powder
- 10 cups whole milk (a little more than a half-gallon)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper, optional
- About 4 cups (32 ounces) cheddar cheese, grated
Optional breadcrumb topping:
- 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
1. Cook the pasta in heavily salted boiling water for 3 minutes less than the indicated package cooking time. Drain and set aside.
2. Grate cheese and set aside.
3. In the now-empty pasta pot, melt the butter over low heat.
4. With a spoon, stir in flour and mustard powder. It will come together as a paste. Stir this for about one minute until this mixture becomes brown and smells good.
5. Change your tool to a whisk and slowly pour in the milk, whisking to remove lumps.
6. Add salt and pepper.
7. Bring heat up to medium and stir occasionally, minding the bottom of the pot, until the mixture bubbles. (This may take up to 20-30 minutes, but don’t cheat. The bubbles indicate that the sauce is hot enough to thicken.)
8. Remove the pot from the heat. Whisk in the grated cheese until it’s smooth.
9. Stir in the pasta and divide between two 9-inch-by-13-inch pans.
10. If baking right away (when the sauce is still warm), mix the breadcrumbs and olive oil and sprinkle evenly over the top. Place in a preheated 450F oven for about 10 minutes or until topping is a little brown.
11. To make ahead and hold for later, cool pans of sauced pasta then cover foil and place in fridge. Mix and package the topping separately and leave at room temperature. When ready to bake, add the topping and then re-cover with foil. Place in a 400F oven for 20-30 minutes. Increase oven temp to 450F, remove foil and bake about 10 minutes more or until the topping is brown.
Not-so-sneaky-vegetable variation: Add pre-steamed chopped broccoli or raw spinach leaves to the sauce before mixing back in the pasta. Blend, if you like.
A note on cheese: Being thrifty, I like to watch for the big loaves of Tillamook cheddar to go on sale. I then hunk the big block up into a few pieces and freeze in a ziplock until needed. (This type of cheese freezes just fine.) Making mac and cheese is also a good way to clean out your fridge. This recipe works just fine with bits and pieces of random cheese. You can even use less cheese if needed. Taste your sauce and see if you like it before coating the pasta.
Anne Willhoit is an educator, community volunteer, and enthusiastic baker who likes to create recipes that use from-scratch and are inspired by local, seasonal ingredients techniques. Find her on Instagram at @aawillhoit or drop her an inquiry at [email protected]