This is such a classic, and my version highlights a pure, rich, and comforting cheese flavor since I skip the roux (a mixture of butter and flour cooked with milk or cream) as a base and start by melting grated Gruyère, Parmesan, and sharp cheddar directly into warmed cream instead.
March 1, 2021
I’ve always felt that a roux dulls the other flavors and almost clashes with the floury nature of the macaroni itself. Dijon and a splash of Tabasco add some heat, while Worcestershire offers salt and the umami quality that keeps you coming back for more. Note: Worcestershire contains anchovies, so if you want this to be vegetarian, substitute soy sauce.
1cupfinely grated Parmesan cheese(grated on a Microplane)
½cupfinely grated sharp cheddar cheese(grated on a Microplane)
Splash of Worcestershire sauce
Splash of Tabasco
1largegarlic clovegrated on a Microplane
1cuppanko bread crumbstoasted
COOK THE MACARONI:
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil over medium heat. Add enough salt to make it taste like seawater (I like to add about 4 tablespoons). Then add the macaroni and use a wooden spoon to stir it, making sure that the macaroni does not stick to the bottom of the pot as it cooks. Cook until the macaroni is still quite firm, generally 6 to 8 minutes (or a few minutes shy of al dente according to the package’s instructions). Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the macaroni in a colander.Preheat the oven to 350°F.MAKE THE SAUCE: In the same pot you used to cook the macaroni, bring the cream and the reserved pasta water to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk in the mustard and then stir in 3 cups of the Gruyère. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer gently, stirring constantly, until the cheese is melted and integrated with the cream. Add ½ cup of the Parmesan and the cheddar, and stir until smooth. Add the Worcestershire and Tabasco and the garlic, and stir to blend. Taste for seasoning.
Add the macaroni to the cheese sauce and stir gently to blend. Remove the pot from the heat and set it aside so the macaroni absorbs the flavor of the sauce, 5 to 10 minutes. Taste. If it needs more cheesy flavor, add the remaining ½ cup Gruyère.
FINISH IN THE OVEN:
In a medium bowl, mix the butter and the toasted bread crumbs. Season with salt and the remaining ½ cup Parmesan. Transfer the macaroni to a baking dish and top it with an even layer of the bread-crumb mixture. Bake the macaroni and cheese until it is hot and bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, let rest for a few minutes, and serve.