Once upon a time there was a very silly girl who thought that a person really only needed one recipe for mac and cheese.  That silly girl was me.  That was back when I was just venturing into the realm of homemade baked mac and cheese, after being scarred by so many dishes served at various potlucks that looked oh-so promising and tasted decidedly not so.  Now I realize that there are so many combinations and permutations possible, it is crazy to think that one version has to be “the one”.  From extremely simplistic to versions with more pizzazz, I have found a lot of great recipes, and still have plenty more that I want to try.

All that being said, the version I am sharing with you here today is, at least to me, what an ideal classic mac and cheese should be.  It is what all those potluck dishes were trying to be when they somehow fell short.  This final product is a clear winner for a couple of reasons.  First, there is more cheese than pasta in this dish – enough said.  Second, the pasta is undercooked initially and then baked with what will absolutely seem like waaay too much cheese sauce.  During baking, the sauce soaks into the pasta, finishing it to the right texture with the creamy cheese sauce all around.  I’m certainly not about to stop trying all different kinds of mac and cheese, but I am thrilled to have this classic version in my repertoire.

  • Yield 8-10 servings


For the bread crumb topping:
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
¾ cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp. dried parsley
Salt and pepper

For the pasta:
1 lb. pasta shapes
6 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dry mustard
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
6 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3½ cups milk
1 lb. colby jack cheese, shredded
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Ground black pepper


  • 01

    To make the bread crumb topping, melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add in the panko and cook, stirring frequently, until the bread crumbs are a light golden brown.  Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside to cool.

  • 02

    Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Add the pasta to the water and cook just until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  Drain the pasta and leave in the colander.

  • 03

    Return the pot to the heat.  Melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Stir in the garlic, dry mustard, and cayenne, cooking just until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds.  Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute.  Whisk in the chicken broth and milk and continue to heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Stir in the cheeses, whisking until completely melted.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir the drained pasta into the cheese sauce.

  • 04

    Pour the pasta and cheese mixture into a lightly greased 9 x 13″ baking dish.  Sprinkle with the bread crumb topping.*  Bake 30-35 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the bread crumbs are golden brown.  (You may want to place a baking sheet on the rack underneath the baking dish to catch any sauce that bubbles over.)

  • 05

    *At this point, the dish can be wrapped tightly with foil and refrigerated for up to 2 days.  To serve, bake covered at 400˚ F until the filling is hot throughout, about 40-45 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake until the breadcrumbs are crisp, 15-20 minutes more.