Most people enjoy macaroni and cheese just like their mom made. For some, that means a custard-based sauce; for others, it’s a béchamel sauce with the addition of cheese. Then there’s the entire generation that prefers the boxed version (this group does not know what they’re missing). I’ve had fun with all three versions. (Yes, I surrendered to the box when my 2-year-old granddaughter was not impressed with my own mac and cheese testing — oh, what we do to keep them happy!)
My mother always made the custard version, in which a combination of milk and beaten eggs was poured over layers of cooked macaroni and shredded cheddar cheese. I favor the velvety smooth cheese sauce that’s prepared while the pasta cooks. Mother always used elbow macaroni, but I prefer a larger noodle such as penne, rigatoni, or ziti; these shapes seem to hold up better to the hearty cheese sauce. I add crushed red pepper flakes and a sprinkling of buttered panko bread crumbs to elevate a nostalgic recipe to new levels. If you can’t take the heat of the pepper flakes, leave them out or try adding a tablespoon of Dijon mustard to the sauce.