In the South, we know that mac and cheese is worthy of the Thanksgiving table just like every other creamy casserole and hearty carb-packed dish—especially this version, which is topped with buttery panko breadcrumbs flavored with sage, thyme, and rosemary. Our Test Kitchen’s secret to incredible macaroni and cheese is cubes of Cheddar cheese that melt as the pasta bakes, creating pockets of gooey goodness in every bite. The dish can be made through Step 2 up to one day in advance; cover and refrigerate. Bring the dish to room temperature (about 30 minutes) before proceeding with Step 3. We’re all for a make-ahead Thanksgiving recipe!
16 ounces uncooked large elbow macaroni, large shells, or cavatappi pasta
6 tablespoons salted butter (3 oz.)
1/3 cup grated yellow onion (from 1 small onion)
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups milk
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
4 ounces extra-sharp yellow Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup), plus 4 oz. diced (about 1 cup), divided
4 ounces sharp white Cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup), plus 4 oz. diced (about 1 cup), divided
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
How to Make It
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prepare pasta according to package directions for al dente.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium. Add onion, mustard, salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown and smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk and cream, and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened and mixture coats a spoon, about 5 minutes. Stir in Worcestershire sauce. Remove from heat, and stir in shredded extra-sharp yellow Cheddar and white Cheddar cheeses until melted. Stir in cooked pasta and diced cheeses; pour into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch (3-quart) ceramic baking dish.
Stir together panko, melted butter, sage, thyme, and rosemary, and sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over casserole before baking.
Bake on a rimmed baking sheet in preheated oven until bubbly and golden, about 30 minutes, until topping is golden brown and crisp. Remove from oven, and cool slightly on a wire rack, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.