Best Macaroni and Cheese
3 cups elbow macaroni noodles, uncooked
½ cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup flour
3 ½ cups milk (2% or whole milk)
16 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
¼ cup butter, melted
1 ½ cups panko crumbs, bread crumbs or crushed crackers
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
*1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (basil, Italian parsley) or a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a large 9x13” baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain thoroughly.
To make the cheese sauce:
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the ground black pepper and salt. Turn the heat to low and while whisking, add the flour, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and bubbly (about a minute) and remove the pot from the heat.
While whisking constantly, stir in the milk. Return the pot to medium-high heat and continue to stir and bring the mixture to a boil. While whisking, boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese until melted.
Add the cooked, drained noodles to the cheese sauce. Mix and pour the macaroni and cheese into the prepared pan.
Prepare the topping:
Melt the butter. Stir in panko crumbs and shredded parmesan cheese.
*Add optional herbs or crushed red pepper to the mixture.
Sprinkle the topping mixture over the macaroni and cheese.
Bake for 30 minutes, uncovered, until the casserole is heated through and the topping is golden brown.
Do ahead tip:
After adding the topping mixture, cover and refrigerate the macaroni and cheese.
When you would like to bake the macaroni and cheese, remove the cover and allow the casserole to come to room temperature while preheating the oven to 375°F.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the macaroni and cheese is heated through and the topping is golden brown.