Before Thanksgiving this past year, I experimented with baking stuffing on a jelly roll pan. Many of you, I imagine, understand the thought process: Why limit the best part of the stuffing to a single layer? Why not make the entire stuffing taste like the crispy bits bobbing at the top?
The stuffing came out well — not well enough to share with you — but I’m hoping to have that taken care of before this November.
The experiment, however, made me want to bake everything (within reason — bread pudding, pasta gratin, etc.) on a sheet pan and thus far, I’ve had one success: this mac n’ cheese. And when I tell you there’s no going back, I mean it.
When baked on a sheet pan, the ratio of topping to noodles increases by at least half, ensuring that buttery breadcrumbs fill every bite. In this mac n’ cheese, blistered cubes of mozzarella peek through a golden, herb-speckled topping, stretching with every pull of the fork, clinging relentlessly to the layer of crispy crumbs. It tastes — not that this was the goal — surprisingly light and looks surprisingly elegant or as elegant as macaroni and cheese can.
It’s the slab pie, the brownie edge, the grilled cheese frico of mac n’ cheese, and I think you and any Super Bowl guests you find at your house this Sunday will approve.
Making this sheet pan macaroni can be broken down into three phases: 1. Boiling the macaroni until it's less than al dente. 2. Making a very thin bechamel using equal parts water and milk. 3. Baking it all together with a layer of garlicky, herbed, buttered breadcrumbs. Once you have the method down, you can get creative with the additions, cheeses, breadcrumb seasonings.
- 3/4 pound elbow macaroni
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 6 oz fresh bread to be pulsed into crumbs (3 cups once pulsed)
- parsley, a medium to large bunch
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups (4 ounces) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 1 cup (8 oz) Fresh Mozzarella, diced into small cubes
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt. Boil macaroni for about 5 minutes or for 2 minutes less than the box's suggested al dente time. (For example, my macaroni box said 'al dente perfection' in 7 to 9 minutes. I boiled mine for 5.) Drain. Do not rinse. Set aside.
- In the same large pot, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Add flour, whisking constantly for about a minute. Add milk and water, whisking to remove any of the flour-butter mixture from bottom of pan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer. Add 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until mixture begins to thicken, about 20 minutes. Note: the mixture will not get super thick, but it will coat the back of a spoon, and if you run your finger through the coating, the trail should stay — see photo. Remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, melt remaining 4 tablespoons of butter stovetop or in microwave. Pulse bread in food processor to make crumbs. Measure 3 cups and place in a mixing bowl. Add parsley (it's ok if the tender stems are included — use the top 3/4 or so of the bunch) and garlic to food processor. Pulse until fine, then add to bowl with breadcrumbs. Season with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Pour butter over top and mix with spatula until combined.
- In a large mixing bowl, toss macaroni with grated Parmigiano Reggiano — it's ok if the noodles are sticking together; they will separate once the béchamel is poured over top.
- Line a jelly roll pan with a sheet of parchment paper. Spread macaroni mixture over top. Distribute mozzarella cubes over top. Scatter breadcrumb mixture evenly over top.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until top is golden and the macaroni is bubbling. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.
Are you not feeling so daring? If so, this is a more traditional mac n’ cheese, my favorite before discovering the sheet pan variation. It’s a no-boil recipe and super easy to throw together.