Now don't get me wrong, I like boxed macaroni and cheese (except for Kraft for whatever reason), but homemade baked macaroni and cheese is on a whole different playing field. Although it's not as cheap and easy, it's definitely worth it once in a while.
This is another of those dishes that is wonderful because it is so customizable. I use whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta. One of my personal favorite additions is cooked, crumbled bacon, but if you want to make it a little more healthy peppers are an excellent addition. Add chunks of ham or hamburger to make this a hearty and filling main dish (you may want to increase the amount of sauce if you add quite a bit of extra ingredients).
from The Joy of Cooking
makes 4 to 6 main-course or 8 to 10 side-dish servings
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a deep 1.5 quart baking dish. Prepare 2 c. White Sauce (recipe below, you will need to double it).
Stir into the prepared white sauce:
1/2 medium onion, minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 t. sweet paprika
Simmer gently, stirring often, for 15 minutes. Have ready:
2.25 c. grated sharp cheddar or Colby cheese (9 ounces)
Remove the sauce from heat, discard the bay leaf, and stir in 2/3 of the cheese. Reserve the rest. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, cook in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender:
2 c. (8 ounces) elbow macaroni, small shells, or tubetti
Drain and remove to a large bowl. Stir in the sauce. Pour half of the mixture into a baking dish and sprinkle with half of the remaining cheese. Top with the rest of the macaroni and the remaining cheese. Sprinkle over the top: 1/2 c. Buttered Bread Crumbs (recipe below).
Bake until the crumbs are lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
yields 1 cup
Melt 2 T. butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
Whisk in 2 T. flour until well-blended and smooth, about 1 1/2 minutes.
Remove from heat and whisk in 1 c. milk.
Return the pan to heat and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Continue to cook, whisking, until the sauce is smooth and hot and has thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Buttered Bread Crumbs
Use dry bread crumbs. Season with salt, allowing 1/2 t. for each cup of the bread crumbs. Brown them slowly in 4 T. butter. Use at once. You may season with bits of crumbled cooked bacon, chopped nuts, grated cheese, ground or crumbled dried herbs, garlic or onion powder, salt, or pepper. Cook until butter is absorbed and crumbs are golden brown.