Recipe courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Kitchen.
Freshly made bread crumbs are the key to achieving a crisp, golden crust, the hallmark of perfect macaroni and cheese. You can make bread crumbs from slices of stale or fresh bread. Arrange the slices in a single layer on a baking sheet, place in a 300°F oven, and bake until they are completely dried and lightly toasted, 20 to 35 minutes. In a food processor, pulse the bread until the crumbs reach the desired consistency, then season with salt and pepper. You can also flavor them with butter or extra-virgin olive oil and fresh herbs or minced garlic.
Feel free to substitute another cheese for the Cheddar. Gruyere, fontina and Emmentaler are good choices.
- 4 cups milk
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 whole clove
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 white onion, peeled
- 2 cups shredded sharp white Cheddar cheese
- Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste
- Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
- 2 teaspoons dry sherry
- 1 pound dried macaroni
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1 Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 375°F. Butter a shallow 2-quart baking dish.
- 2 In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan. Keep warm.
- 3 To make the roux, in another medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the flour and cook, stirring constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon, until the flour and butter thicken into a paste and smell fragrant, about 1 minute. Do not let the roux brown. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth and blended. Bring the sauce to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent lumping and scorching, then reduce the heat to low.
- 4 Using the clove, attach the bay leaf to the onion and add it to the sauce. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove and discard the onion, add 1 cup of the cheese and stir until blended. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg, add the sherry and stir until blended.
- 5 Meanwhile, bring a large pot three-fourths full of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the macaroni and cook according to the package instructions until al dente (tender but firm to the bite). Drain well.
- 6 Transfer the macaroni to the prepared dish. Spoon the sauce over the macaroni, scatter the remaining 1 cup cheese over the top and sprinkle the bread crumbs over the cheese. Bake, uncovered, until lightly browned and bubbling, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve immediately.
- 7 Serves 4 to 6.