I have been meaning to get this recipe out to all of you for weeks now. Sorry! But before I tell you how terrific it is (and it is, really!) let's all take a minute and stop and think about how much we adore mac and cheese. The creaminess, the crunchy top, the childhood memories it conjures up...truly this classic dish deserves a reverential moment of silence. Ok, now that I've probably weirded you out, let's get back to this sheet-pan style mac & cheese and why it's one of my favorite new things!
First off, let's talk ratio of crusty topping to creamy, cheesy macaroni. In this version, with the pasta being spread out over so much larger of a surface area than in the traditional casserole dish, you get tons more crispy, crunchy golden brown, pickable topping. YUM!!!
Next, we're using homemade bread crumbs here and that is an absolute. Don't even think of subbing in canned, store-bought breadcrumbs. No sirree! Not that I don't use them all the time, but in this dish, the homemade breadcrumbs make the dish and you won't be able to recreate it without them. Fortunately they are incredibly easy to make. All you do is pulverize several slices of bread in the food processor, toast them in the oven and voila! Homemade bread crumbs.
The white sauce, traditionally referred to as a béchamel, is a snap to prepare and coats the pasta lightly, making this mac & cheese version a little bit lighter and less rich than more traditional kinds, which works really well while it's still kinda warm outside.
But don't get me wrong--this is a year-round crowd pleaser. You can't imagine how even the most distinguished guests go all gooey when they hear that mac & cheese is on the menu! There's just something about it and judging by the way that this disappeared at our last family gathering, I don't think it's going out of style anytime soon!
Macaroni & Cheese, Sheet-Pan Style
Makes about 10 servings.
You will need a food processor to make the bread crumbs
Prep Time: 25-30 minutes; Bake Time: 30-35 minutes
For the homemade bread crumbs
- 5-6 slices white or whole wheat bread torn apart into smallish pieces, store bought (not the thin kind) or homemade--I often use leftovers from this homemade peasant bread or this whole wheat version--if crusts are very thick on whatever bread you use, you may want to trim them off.
For the Macaroni & Cheese
- 16 ounce box of macaroni
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), divided
- 1/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk (you can use lower fat milk but it won't be as creamy)
- 2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
- Large handful fresh chopped parsley
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 ounces (1 1/2 cups) freshly grated Parmesan
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
1. To make the homemade bread crumbs: Preheat oven to 375ºF. Pulse the pieces of bread in a food processor until fine. Transfer the crumbs to a large rimmed baking sheet and spread out evenly. Toast the crumbs for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple of weeks if not using right away.
2. Increase oven to 425º F. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the macaroni and cook for 5 minutes. Drain and place into a large bowl. Do not wash the pot.
3. Place 4 tablespoons of the butter into the pot and place over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk constantly for 1 minute, Then whisk in the milk and water, pulling up any pieces that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower the heat so that it comes to a simmer. Add the salt and pepper and let cook for about 20 minutes, whisking every so often, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and taste. Add more salt and pepper if necessary.
4. While the sauce is simmering, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan. Place the cooled breadcrumbs (you want about 3 cups worth), the parsley and the garlic in a medium bowl, season with a pinch of salt and pepper and mix together well. Set aside.
5. Add the Parmesan to the macaroni in the bowl and the sauce. Toss well to coat.
6. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the macaroni mixture out onto the sheet and spread out evenly. Distribute the cubes of mozzarella all across the top evenly and then top with the bread crumb mixture, spreading it out evenly as well.
7. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden and bubbly. If you want to cut neat squares, it's best to let this sit for about 10 minutes or so before attempting to cut it.
8. This can also be made one day ahead through Step 6 and then covered and chilled. Try to remove it 30 minutes before you bake so it won't go into the oven cold. Otherwise, you may need to tack on a few extra minutes of baking.
Note: Recipe adapted from Bread, Toast, Crumbs by Alexandra Stafford. I upped the amount of pasta from 12 ounces to the 16 ounces that comes in the box because I find it annoying to have a mostly empty pasta box leftover. Also, feel free to change the cheese to cheddar if you like--I've made it with that too and it's great.