- 1 pound pasta (Orchechette works well)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon, all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups whole milk
- 8 ounces smoked cheddar, grated (about 4 cups)
- 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon of salt, or to taste
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a medium pot full of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until very al dente, per the package’s instructions. Drain and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, set over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, stir in the flour and cook for about a minute, until it’s thoroughly incorporated. Pour in the whole milk and whisk until it’s distributed throughout the milk. Keep stirring, scraping the bottom and edges of the pan, for a few minutes until the sauce thickens, being sure not to let it reach a full boil. Once it’s thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, turn off the heat and stir in the smoked cheddar. Add the thyme, black pepper, mustard and mix once more. Add the salt and give it a taste. You may need to add more (this will all depend on how salty the cheese you’re using is). Stir in the drained pasta. Give it one more taste and adjust the salt once more.
- Transfer the mac and cheese to six 4-ounce baking dishes or a large 11×8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the panko bread crumbs and a few extra turns of black pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes if you’re using the small baking dishes and 25 minutes for a larger baking dish. If there’s not enough color on top, don’t be shy to throw it under the broiler for about 2 to 3 minutes until toasty and golden brown. Serve immediately.