Bare Bones Mac n Cheese American Pasta Tasting Table Test Kitchen

Bare Bones Mac 'N Cheese 


| Recipes | Jill Santopietro

We test and taste every recipe we publish. While we collaborate with a lot of talented chefs, we adapt and tinker with everything in our test kitchen. (It smells really good in here). Our goal is to make sure every recipe works as well in your home kitchen as it does in ours. So go on, get cooking with confidence.


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Bare Bones Mac N' Cheese

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes (plus cooking time)

  • ¾ pound elbow macaroni

    3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pan

    ¼ cup flour

    3 cups whole milk, warmed

    Fine sea salt

    Freshly ground black pepper

    12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 4½ cups)

    ⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs


1. Heat the oven to 350° degrees. Butter a 2-quart casserole. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water to very al dente; drain.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour, mixing constantly, until golden and no longer raw smelling, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the warm milk, a little at a time. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the saucepan constantly, until it thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, 5 to 10 minutes. (This is a white sauce, or bechamel). Season with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in three-fourths of the cheese until melted. Fold in the cooked macaroni. Taste and season again as needed.

3. Transfer to the casserole. Top with the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake until browned and bubbly, about 30-35 minutes.

Ways to Make It Even Tastier:

1. Add 1 teaspoon dry mustard and ¼ teaspoon hot sauce to the béchamel.

2. Add a bouquet garni (a bay leaf, some whole peppercorns, thyme sprigs, and parsley stems) to the milk as you heat it, then let it simmer with the béchamel as it cooks. Remove before adding the cheese.

3. Substitute brioche breadcrumbs for regular: cut the brioche into cubes and dry them out over night (or pop them in a low temp oven (200 degrees for 40 to 60 minutes) until dry). Pulse in a food processor until crumbly.

4. Substitute other delicious cheeses for the cheddar. Let your imagine go wild here. We like combining blue and Gruyère, Taleggio and Humbolt Fog, and Taleggio and Parmesan.

5. Fold seared bacon, pancetta or guanciale pieces into the pasta before baking.

6. Try an artisan pasta in different shapes like conchiglie, gnocchetti, creste di galli, lumache, torchio, or orecchiette.

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