I call this "adult" macaroni and cheese because I usually make it with a cheese other than the standard cheddar - gruyere, emanthaler, parmesan, asiago. It makes a great side dish on a cold winter day! This recipe is based on one from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins with my own variations.
1 pound penne or other pasta
4 cups milk
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp paprika
Salt and pepper
12 ounces cheese, grated
1. Boil the pasta in a large stock pot with salted water. Use the time alotted on the package but subtract one minute - you want the pasta to be slightly underdone.
2. Drain the pasta and set aside in a large bowl.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 F degrees.
4. In a large sauce pan (or in a large microwave-safe glass measuring cup in the microwave), bring the milk to a boil and immediately remove from heat.
5. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over low heat. Add the flour and whist over low heat for about 5 minutes but make sure it doesn't brown. Remove from heat.
6. Add the hot milk to the flour mixture, and whist well. Add 1/2 tsp of the paprika, season with salt and pepper, and return the pan to the heat. Cook over medium heat, constantly whisting for about 5 minutes or until mixture thickens. Remove from heat.
7. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce.
8. Butter a 13 x 9 x 2 glass baking dish or casserole and pour in the pasta/sauce mixture.
9. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta and then sprinkle with the remaining paprika, salt and pepper.
10. Place the dish on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes until hot.
11. Remove the dish and if desired, place under a broiler - watching constantly - until the top is golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Variations: look for hard or semi-hard cheeses to use but I have also used some cream cheeses such as fontina. When using a creamier cheese, I mix the cheese into the pasta instead of sprinkling on top. Also consider using cheese combinations such as asiago and gorgonzola. Another variation is to add a can of chopped, drained tomatoes to the pasta mixture as well as cooked mushrooms - the goal is to add items which won't contribute moisture to the dish and make it soupy.