Ina Garten’s Mac & Cheese

By Christina Collins

The only recipe you’ll ever need

Mac and Cheese is one of life’s greatest culinary pleasures and i’s my weakness. If it’s on a menu, I have to get it. Every time. I know I’m not alone- it’s one of the most frequently googled recipes on the internet! But you can stop the search – this is the best Mac & Cheese recipe you’ll ever need!

Why Ina Garten’s Mac & Cheese won me over.

I became obsessed with mastering the perfect Mac & Cheese back in 2005 . In one weekend I made 5 different batches! At the end of my weekend mission I was defeated – none of them were keepers. They were good, but not the forever recipe I was looking for. And so the quest continued.

It took over a year (and lots of cheese) before I opened up to page 202 in Ina Garten’s Cookbook “Family Style” and things were finally on the right “mac track”. This recipe was exactly what I was looking for- creamy, refined, comforting and could be made ahead of time! Life was now complete. Ok…that’s a major exaggeration but at least in my kitchen it felt that way. I have been using this exact recipe as a base ever since.

Ina’s Mac & Cheese Base Recipe with Ham & Chives

What is a Roux?

What I discovered on my quest to fine the best mac & cheese recipe is that it’s all about the roux. Back then, I didn’t even understand was a roux was. If you don’t know either, it’s the glue that holds a sauce together and thickens it. It’s made of equal parts flour and fat. The Food Network has a good article and video on How to Make a Roux that is really helpful for beginners. There are also an abundance on YouTube. It is an essential skill for any decent cook. And it’s easy!

Once you learn to get your roux just right, you’re well on your way to gooey cheese sauce heaven. To do this, I find slow and steady wins this race. You want to be sure to stir in the milk gently until it coats the back of a spoon nicely. Then off the heat is when you add the cheese, and then you have yourself a luscious, glorious cheese sauce.

Watch & Learn How to Make Ina Garten’s Mac & Cheese

Choosing the best cheese for Mac & Cheese

Once you know how to make the basic version of mac & cheese, there are an endless amount of variations that can be created to take it to a whole new level. To start, you can completely change the flavor of the dish just by changing up the cheeses.

However, you have to be careful to choose only cheeses that melt well or the Mac & Cheese will end up oily and not the desired consistency of smooth and gooey. Some of the best melting cheeses include asiago, cheddar, colby, fontina, gouda (not aged), gruyère, havarti, monterey jack, and muenster. Stay away from cheeses such as manchego, aged hard cheeses, roquefort, and feta that will expel oil and will ruin the texture of your dish.

Make ahead Mac & Cheese Recipe

The best part of this mac & cheese recipe is that it can be made in advance and even portioned into individual servings if you wish. (Although, I have to admit I prefer to bake it and eat it right away!) But if needed, prepare the recipe entirely the day in advance and refrigerate until ready to heat. Take it out of the fridge for about 30 -45 minutes before you are ready to take the chill off and then bake according to directions.

Helpful Tips

  • Mac and cheese does not reheat well after the first bake and this recipe is no exception. The fats will break and it will be very oily and not enjoyable. Only bake as much as you need at one time.

Cauliflower “Mac” & Cheese is a great twist on the classic!

The Best Mac & Cheese Recipe

Ina Garten's Mac & Cheese is a rich and creamy. This recipe makes a great base recipe that can be expanded upon by adding a variety of ingredients such as ham & chives, broccoli & chicken, lobster & truffle and many more! This recipe can be made one day in advance and baked to order.
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8 people

Ingredients
  

  • 1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
  • 1 quart milk
  • 8 tablespoons 1 stick unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere grated (4 cups)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar grated (2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 pound fresh tomatoes- optional (4 small)
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs 5 slices, crusts removed

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 375F
  • Heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth.
  • Meanwhile, while you are making the roux, drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
  • Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish (or individual dishes.)
  • Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top.
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

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