Do you have a favorite comfort food?  Good old macaroni and cheese is my 10-year-old’s usual request and he asked for it several times recently and I hadn’t gotten around to it.

Then, he got sick — twice! — and didn’t want to eat a thing.  When he was finally on the mend and his appetite was returning, I knew it was time to make his favorite.

For a fancy mac and cheese, Ina Garten, of The Barefoot Contessa fame,  has a terrific recipe. For a great traditional recipe which pleases kids and adults alike, I love this version. It is very easy yet made special by the crunchy topping and the hint of Dijon.  All the ingredients are easy to have on hand, too.  Feel free to use your favorite cheddar cheese, but for this recipe, I don’t hesitate to use my favorite brand of pre-shredded cheddar.  I like the white, extra-sharp kind, but if you like mild or yellow cheddar, use that.

I actually like to put fresh tomato slices under the topping prior to baking, but I have purists in my family. So, I eat my tomatoes on the side.  Several people in my extended family must eat their macaroni and cheese with a side of stewed tomatoes.  Sometimes, they are on the menu. This is also a great meal to pull out your favorite bag of frozen green veggies–we are broccoli and pea fans–which happen to be extra nutritious as they are frozen at the peak of ripeness. Easy, too.

Christian, however, would be happiest with a mountain of mac and cheese on his plate, and nothing else.  This recipe is dedicated to him…with a special wink to my biggest 11-year-old fan, whose initials are C.H.: )  I hope you enjoy!

Classic Crispy Top Macaroni and Cheese

Yield: 6 servings

This is basic mac and cheese at its best—easy and cheesy with just the right amount of crusty topping. People can’t put their finger on the secret ingredient, but the tiny bit of Dijon enhances the flavor beautifully. For added convenience, this recipe may easily be doubled and freezes well.

  • 8 ounces pasta (my favorites are the traditional elbow, gemelli and bucatini)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 level teaspoon Dijon mustard (resist the urge to use a heaping spoonful…a little goes a long way)
  • 2 cups milk (I use non-fat but 2% or whole are fine also.)
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • For the topping:
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs) or coarse dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese (see notes)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. First, make the topping by tossing the panko with the melted butter in a medium bowl. Then mix in the cheese. Set aside.
  3. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, drain and cover.
  4. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a large saucepan and blend in the flour, salt and pepper. Cook until the mixture is bubbly, and then gradually add the milk, stirring while adding. Stir in the Dijon.
  5. Over medium heat, cook and stir until the sauce boils, and then simmer for one minute, stirring constantly.
  6. Reduce the heat to low, add the cheese, and stir until just melted.
  7. Add the pasta to the cheese mixture and toss lightly to coat. Pour into a 9-inch square baking dish (see note), and then sprinkle with the topping.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the topping is lightly golden.


This recipe may be baked in any 2-quart casserole. I like using a 9-inch square pan because it provides a good ratio of crispy surface area to gooey inside. If you use a 9-inch round casserole, which yields slightly less surface area, you may wish to use about 3/4 of the topping recipe.

When freezing, it is best to do so prior to baking.

Bucatini, which is like a spaghetti-length elbow macaroni, is a fun noodle option and makes it possible to cut your mac and cheese into squares or wedges that will hold their shape fairly well. For easier cleanup, add the cooked pasta to the cheese mixture. Then, you only have one goopy pan to clean!

 For a gluten-free version–that nobody ever knows is gluten-free!–click here or on the photo below…

Seriously Delicious Gluten-Free Crispy-Top Mac & Cheese