In 2009 I asked my wife, whom I had just begun dating, if it was important to her to go out someplace special for Valentine’s Day dinner. She said, as long as we got to do something together, she would be fine with Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese. I decided to step it up a bit, but a tradition was born none the less and every Valentine’s day since we have had this Mac ‘n Cheese recipe.
- 6 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed, torn 1/2-inch pieces
- 4 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
- 5 cups milk
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 pound Canadian bacon or smoked ham, cubed (optional)
- 4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar
- 2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated pecorino Romano
- 1 pound elbow macaroni (4 cups dry)
- 1. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
- 2. In medium saucepan heat 4 cups of milk over medium heat. Mix remaining 1 cup cool milk and flour. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add milk and flour mixture. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
- 3. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.
- 3a. While cheese mixture is thickening, fill a large saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than manufacturer’s directions, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water to halt cooking process, and drain well.
- 4. Set heat to low under sauce pan with milk mixture. Stir in salt, nutmeg, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar, 1 1/2 cups Gruyere or 1 cup pecorino Romano and ham. Set cheese sauce aside.
- 5. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
- 6. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere or 1/4 cup pecorino Romano; scatter breadcrumbs over the top.
- 7. Place cookie sheet under casserole dish and bake until browned on top, about 45 minutes.
- 8. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes; serve.