This easy version of macaroni and cheese is made with lots of extra sharp Vermont cheddar, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and a crispy topping made from Japanese panko breadcrumbs.
Note: Panko is a crunchy, flaky bread crumb from Japan, available in Asian markets and most grocery stores. If you can’t find panko, make your own bread crumbs using day-old French or Italian bread. Place bread in a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse three or four times or until bread turns to fine crumbs. Spread on a baking sheet. Bake at 300° 6 to 8 minutes, or until crumbs are dry and crisp. Do not brown.
7 tablespoons salted butter, divided
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 8-ounce package ziti, macaroni, or your favorite pasta
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch crushed red-pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
8 ounces (about 2 cups) extra-sharp Vermont cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350°. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy skillet. Add panko and stir until coated; set aside.
Cook pasta according to package, stopping 2 minutes shy of suggested cooking time. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy saucepan over low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking continuously, about 1 minute; don’t let mixture brown. Add milk gradually and cook over medium heat, whisking continuously, until mixture is thickened and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; add salt, pepper, red-pepper flakes, mustard, and cheeses, whisking until melted.
Add pasta; then spoon mixture into a lightly greased 2-quart casserole or four lightly greased 2-cup baking dishes. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until bubbly.