This recipe for the ultimate baked macaroni and cheese updated March 2016 as part of the #ThrowbackThursday photography series in which I add better photos to already delicious recipes!
I grew up on blue box macaroni and cheese. Not that we ate it very frequently, because we didn’t, but it was the only kind of macaroni and cheese I remember eating. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when one is trying to remove processed foods from their diet, that’s one of the first things that has to go and after a while, it doesn’t even taste good anyway.
The Godfather and I purchased a box many years ago, to enjoy for nostalgia, and it was just too salty and “fake” tasting for us. We still love macaroni and cheese though, so I had to start making it from scratch. I originally started by making this Emeril Lagasse recipe (we went through quite the Emeril phase early in our wedded food adventures), but then started improvising, as I do, and my recipe evolved into what I’m sharing here today. Depending on my mood, we will change the cheeses around, omit the bacon, add other vegetables or meats… playing in the kitchen is always encouraged.
I knew I was on to something though when I made macaroni and cheese for a potluck dinner and a friend of mine, who hates macaroni and cheese, enjoyed it! Hooray for real cheese! It’s very easy to make, and you can even freeze a portion before baking to enjoy later, which is good for portion control because this isn’t health food, not even a little bit. It’s buttery, cheesy, carb-y, comfort, and I hope you’ll give this recipe a try next time you’re craving macaroni and cheese.
And on a totally different note, what a difference a few months have made in my food photography! I shot this recipe in the fall and really noticed how early I was in the learning curve when I looked at these on my computer screen. Hooray for practice! What new skill are you currently improving?
Note: Since I originally published this recipe, I find I’ve been omitting the bacon more often than not. It’s not that I don’t like bacon, but sometimes I just want a lovely, classic, vegetarian macaroni and cheese. See the notes in the recipe for the modifications I make when I don’t use bacon. 😉
The Ultimate Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 lb elbow macaroni
- 6 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 3 strips thick-sliced bacon**
- 1 medium onion diced
- 2.5 cups milk
- 4 oz gouda cheese
- 4 oz fontina cheese
- 8 oz sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs for topping
- Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter either two 7" round dishes or one 9x13" baking dish and set aside.
- Boil the pasta in salted water according to package directions and drain.
- Cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy. Drain on a paper towel and reserve the grease. Dice the bacon when cool enough to handle and set aside.
- Make the roux by melting the butter and bacon grease together over medium heat in a medium saucepan. When the butter is melted, whisk in the flour. The mixture will be very lumpy and thick. Continue whisking and add the milk little by little until fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Reduce the heat to medium low.
- Add the cheese and stir until melted. Pour the cheese mixture over the macaroni, add 1/2 tsp of the paprika, salt, pepper, and diced bacon, and stir to combine.
- Pour into your prepared baking dish. Mix together the panko crumbs and remaining 1/2 tsp of paprika and sprinkle over your macaroni.
- Baked uncovered 25-30 minutes until the edges are lightly browned. Serve warm.
Recipe Notes**If you aren't using the bacon and would prefer a classic macaroni and cheese, simply increase the amount of butter to a full 8 tbsp (1 stick) and skip the step about cooking the bacon. You'll start by making the roux. 😉
Should you choose to freeze the recipe, prepare up until baking, then cover with aluminum foil. Bake straight from the freezer, covered, for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 15.
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