Thanks to some gift cards left over from our wedding that I came across recently (best unexpected bonus ever), I have a new toy: The KitchenAid Mixer Pasta Press Attachment.
When I was a kid, I adored the Play-Doh extruder where you push down on the lever and make different shapes come out depending on which plate you used. In the last few weeks, I've learned that pasta dough is Play-Doh for adults, and I'm in a complete wonderland.
This mixer attachment makes 6 shapes: large macaroni, small macaroni, fusili, rigatoni, bucatini, and spaghetti. Yes, I have the 6 shapes memorized and tell almost everyone I meet. Over the holidays, we traveled to my family's cabin in Port Townsend, Washington (my favorite place in the world). Along with our luggage and the dog in the car came Little Blue, my trusty KitchenAid mixer, and my new attachment.
Almost every night for dinner while we were there, I made a different shape of pasta with a different sauce. The whole process is fairly labor intensive, but it's totally worth it if you're willing to put in some effort. I'm never buying pasta again!
Macaroni & cheese was quite apropos for our cozy cabin on the water. I ate it curled up on the couch, watching the sun set over the ocean and listening to the fire crackle. Like every other Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen recipe I've ever tried, this one was a huge winner.
I halved the recipe to get the quantities below; feel free to double it and bake in a 9x13 broiler-safe dish to serve a crowd.
Macaroni & Cheese
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Bread Crumb Topping
3 slices white sandwich bread (good-quality, about 3 ounces), torn into rough pieces
1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 3 pieces
Pasta and Cheese
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
1/2 tablespoon table salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons powdered mustard
Dash cayenne pepper, plus more to taste (optional)
2 1/2 cups milk (whole, low-fat, or skim)
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese , shredded (1 cup)
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1. For the bread crumbs: Pulse bread and butter in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch, ten to fifteen 1-second pulses. Set aside.
2. For the pasta and cheese: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add macaroni and 1/2 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender. Drain pasta and set aside in colander.
3. In now-empty Dutch oven, heat butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne (if using) and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1/2 teaspoon salt until cheeses are fully melted. Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.
4. Transfer mixture to broiler-safe 8x8-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for even browning. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.