Finished Macaroni & Cheese with browned crust
8 oz. (usually 1/2 a box) of a curly type pasta like rotini or fuselli
1 lb of sharp cheddar (sharper the better) corsely grated
2 c. milk
1/4 c. flour
6 tbl. butter
1/2 c heavy cream (not half & half or lite cream) (Yes, this is a cholesterol festival)
Lousiana style hot sauce to taste (not Mexican style)
Pepper to taste
2 c. panko (you can use toasted bread crumbs but it won't be as crunchy)
Mix ins - listed at the end since they are optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the pasta al dente, remember it will cook more in the oven. Drain & set aside.
Melt 1/2 (4 tbls) of the butter and mix with the panko, set aside to cool to room temperature.
Warm the milk in a sauce pan. In another pan melt the rest of the butter and add the flour, stir until the butter foams & the roux is a light brown (otherwise the sauce will taste chalky). Add the milk and stir until the lumps are gone and the sauce is smooth. Add 3/4 lb of the cheese and stir until melted. Add hot sauce & pepper to taste, don't worry the sauce won't make it spicy but will prevent the cheese sauce from becoming bland. Simmer for about 5 - 10 minutes to blend, add the cream and set aside off the heat.
Mix the buttered panko with the rest of the grated cheese.
Put the pasta in an oven safe pan, I use a 9 x 13 and add any mix ins. Pour over the cheese sauce & stir well to blend. Cover the mixture with the panko crumbs and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the dish is bubbling and the panko is browned and crunchy with melted cheese.
Mix in options. You can use any or all of these, just adjust the pan size accordingly.
1 - 1.5 cups of any cooked meat such as tuna or chicken
1 - 1.5 cups of raw shrimp (not cooked or the additional time in the oven will turn them rubbery)
1 - 1.5 cups of any vegis (I'll use broccoli, pearl onions, snow peas or sugar snaps, you could try peas but I don't like 'little bits' in my mac & cheese. Frozen is fine but let them thaw & drain off the excess moisture. High moisture vegis like bell peppers just seem to go to pieces in a dish like this)
Asparagus spears - They get mushy if cooked in so I put them on top of the panko crust and sprinkle on a little extra cheese to lightly cover. That way they stay firm
Serves 4 -6 depending on the amount of mix ins you add. If you want to make this for a pot luck, get it ready to the point of adding the panko and they keep it cold. One hr before serving, take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Put on the panko & bake (If you add the panko ahead of time it will get soggy and you won't have the crunchy crust)