You likely have a go-to macaroni and cheese recipe, but we're here to convince you to stray from tradition. Cute and curly cavatappi noodles hug the creamy cheese sauce better than elbows, and the kids will think they're fun to eat. Speaking of cheese, we've discovered the ultimate trifecta: white cheddar and Gruyère in the pasta, and Pecorino in the breadcrumbs. Instead of opting for Panko, we made our own breadcrumbs with English muffins—the perfect way to use up the second half of the bag. The tang from the muffins mixed with fresh thyme and rosemary makes for a deliciously crunchy topping that will have you scraping the baking dish clean.
For the breadcrumbs (makes two cups):
4 English muffins, halved and torn into bite-size pieces
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup grated Pecorino cheese (1 ounce)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus leaves for garnish
½ teaspoon kosher salt
For the pasta:
1 pound cavatappi
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for baking dish
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons dry mustard powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4½ cups whole milk
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces Gruyère, grated (1¾ cups)
8 ounces white cheddar, grated (1¾ cups)
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 9x13 inch baking dish (or other 3-qt. baking dish).
Make the breadcrumbs: Place torn English muffins in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarse crumbs form. Transfer to a medium bowl and add butter, Pecorino, rosemary, thyme, and salt. Mix to combine; set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cavatappi and cook until al dente (remove from heat 1 to 2 minutes before package directions). Drain and set aside.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour, mustard powder, nutmeg, and cayenne and cook until golden, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk and simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in salt and several grinds black pepper. Slowly add gruyère and cheddar, whisking until melted, about 2 minutes.
Add pasta to the pot and toss to combine. Pour into prepared baking dish. Top with reserved breadcrumbs. Bake until the cheese sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Top with several grinds black pepper and fresh thyme leaves.
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